Words by: Johannes Quodt, Co-founder & Co-CEO
When Chris and I started to research the footwear industry back in 2015, we were upset to see how competition in footwear has such a detrimental impact on so many areas we care about: cost savings beyond a reasonable level resulting in inhumane labor standards, unacceptable product quality, and a poor environmental track record.
From day one of Koio, Chris and I set out to positively impact society and the planet with our new organization. We wanted to ensure that everyone involved in making a high-end Koio sneaker gets a fair share of the value they create. There should never be any exploitation in our system. Also, we wanted to ascertain that our community consumes fewer, better things. We vowed to stay away from a waste-producing, built-in-expiration economy.
An early way to address these most striking issues of footwear production was producing our shoes in Italy. The country has strict labor standards, making it a more responsible choice than many low-wage countries that other footwear companies flock to. We didn’t stop there. Selecting a factory that works for only the most prestigious brands ensured that each product is made to the highest quality standards and lasts for years.
While we initially focused our sustainability efforts on labor practices and responsible consumption, we soon became interested in making our products more environmentally sustainable. The challenge was that hundreds of different directions for being more sustainable opened up. Recycled plastic, reduced carbon footprint, less water use, veganism, and countless more. While all of those initiatives have their merit, we realized that we could have a bigger impact in some areas than in others.
Our goal was to focus our efforts on a few highly relevant areas to have a large impact quickly. The framework we developed has only two elements: 1) Using better materials and 2) Keeping our product away from landfills. But those two elements are the ones where we can make big strides.
Using better materials
From SS21 onwards, we will use leather that’s certified by the Leather Working Group (LWG).
The two key components of our shoes are leather and plastics, so it made sense to ask how we can improve those. The Leather Working Group is the most relevant organization to conduct independent environmental audits of tanneries. In these audits, the Leather Working Group investigates various relevant areas, including raw-materials traceability, water usage, and waste management. Working with LWG-certified tanneries is the most effective measure for an organization like Koio to ensure more sustainable leathers.
From FW20 onwards, we will maximize the share of non-fossil and recycled material in any plastic component of our shoes
Soles might be made from different compounds, like EVA, TPU, PU, or rubber. While they’re chemically different, they all come from fossil fuels and tend to end up in landfills. Our primary goal is to reduce the share of virgin material going into our soles by increasing the share of recycled material used. In that way, we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and keep plastics out of landfills. If using recycled material is not possible due to technical constraints, we aim to use materials from natural sources, like rubber trees, instead of fossil sources.
Keeping our product out of landfills
We remain committed to making footwear that is high-quality and lasts for years.
Making high-quality shoes is a low-key but exceptionally effective way of keeping shoes out of landfills and reducing waste. If we make a shoe that can be worn twice as long, we cut the waste associated with wearing shoes in half. Therefore, we continue to produce our shoes at the highest-quality factories that understand how to construct all the valuable components into a shoe that will remain beautiful and comfortable for years.
From FW20 onwards, we help less-than-perfect Koio shoes find a home with Koio Vintage.
A community like Koio’s has a variety of preferences, not only when it comes to shoe colors and styles (or really anything, it’s 2020), but also when it comes to product perfection. While part of our community wants the perfect, flawless sneaker out of the box, another part is happy with a little scratch or wrinkle. At the same time, such imperfections naturally happen, either directly in the production process or when customers are trying on shoes in our stores or at home. To avoid these shoes ending up in landfills, we started Koio Vintage — a collection where we offer those original Koio sneakers which are very mildly worn or have a minor imperfection at a very attractive price.
We are actively exploring recycling programs.
What I noted above — the values, framework, and activities that constitute our sustainability efforts — is our current thinking on sustainability. It reflects the priorities that we find most impactful for Koio now and the technology that is available to us at this point. As we continue on this journey, we will see our priorities evolve and the available technology advance. We will never claim that we reduce the impact of our shoes to zero. But we will always put forward our best effort and honest intentions to drastically improve the impact we have on our planet and our society.
Our long-term goal is to recycle Koio sneakers at the end of their lifecycle. Right now, this is still really hard. Each input material has to be processed differently. For example, recycling a rubber sole is a very different process than recycling cotton laces. What makes recycling even more complicated is that many components are bonded together with glues in the production process. Those materials need to be separated before they can be recycled. Consequently, making a shoe recyclable is the toughest of all projects and the one where progress will be slowest. However, we have identified partners who will help us recycle Koio shoes once they have had a long and exciting life.