Interview with Oliver Korden, Head of Footwear at VAUDE, about sustainability regarding outdoor products
Oliver, what exactly characterizes a sustainable VAUDE product?
Oliver Korden: «More than 10 years ago, we designed our Green Shape concept and set strict criteria for what makes a sustainable product for us. This does not only apply to the materials and production. Rather, we consider the entire product life cycle, from design to production, care and reparability, to (re)use. The goal is of course always a closed material cycle. In the meantime, we have achieved a Green Shape share of more than 80%, in the case of clothing even almost 100%. These criteria are constantly reviewed and adjusted. We are currently working on Green Shape 3.0.
What should I, as a customer, consider when buying outdoor products?
Conscious consumption requires that I inform myself before buying. In specialized stores, you can ask the retailer specifically about green products. Seals and labels also offer a certain amount of orientation, but you should also check critically here. A good platform is, for example, Siegelklarheit. The Grüner Knopf textile seal of the Federal Government is also a good, very strict standard. However, the Grüner Knopf seal only applies to clothing so far, not to footwear.
How is compliance of sustainability standards controlled at VAUDE?
We always pay great attention to verification and certification by external third parties in all our activities. In the social area, this includes, for example, the Fair Wear Foundation, which monitors compliance of socially fair working conditions worldwide. For materials, established standards such as bluesign, GOTS or the Global Recycling Standard are the basis. In the field of climate neutrality, myclimate has been our partner for many years, and we align our long-term climate strategy with the science-based targets. By 2024, we want to be a completely climate-neutral company.
How does VAUDE differ from other shoe manufacturers in the outdoor market?
We are getting steadily closer to our goal of being the most sustainable outdoor footwear manufacturer of performance products. The outdoor footwear market is well represented and we have gone a step further to bring sustainability and performance together. In 2016 we started looking for sustainable material partners who think and act like us. Since 2018 we have been able to achieve our first successes in bio-based materials and have been able to increase our recycled material percentage step by step. This will lead to our outdoor shoes being 100% Green Shape rated in our company in the winter of 2020.
What are the biggest challenges, advantages or disadvantages of a sustainable shoe production?
There are – as in all new fields to be entered – some challenges. As a pioneer, we often enter new territory, even in our own minds, and have to do a lot of education and persuasion work with suppliers. In the last three years, however, the attitude of both material suppliers and manufacturers has changed dramatically. Now that larger players are increasingly pushing the gas pedal, the willingness to develop ecologically and the possibility of producing in smaller quantities has grown. If we really want to take the big sustainability step, in the future everyone will either have to buy from VAUDE (laughs) or intervene even more in the supply chain through legal regulations. The ecological advantage is undisputed, and has a motivating effect on us and our customers. Knowing that you are making a small contribution to the ecological footprint of the people who wear our shoes outdoors. In fact, I no longer see any disadvantages.
What news or new models does VAUDE currently have in its pipeline?
We currently have a new hiking boot on the market that has a very comfortable, natural and ecological material package. With leather dyed in Germany and our exclusive 100% recycled Sympatex membrane, including the climate-neutral lining, we are proud to be able to offer a great value for money. Next summer we will launch a new urban line from Portugal, which goes one step further with some materials and additionally all materials can be returned to the production cycle. Even the sole is separable and recyclable.
VAUDE also has some interesting developments in the bike sector. What advantages does the new waterproof bicycle shoe offer compared to conventional models?
With the new Minaki II STX bike shoe I am now going into raptures. Here the challenge was to make a new winter cycling shoe that is warmer, more waterproof and more ecological.
What ensures the waterproofness and breathability of the new waterproof cycling shoe models? And what other sustainable materials are used in the new models?
First of all, we carried out research in our own cold chamber to find out which regions cause the feet the most problems in current models. The two main areas of attack for water and cold were the frontal area above the laces, as well as the cleat area, where cold and sometimes moisture could penetrate significantly more. We sealed the cleat area from the inside, so that this cold bridge was already gone. The BOA fastener on the shaft is covered with a neoprene velcro. For insulation we use the 90% recycled Eco-Gold insulation material from Primaloft. In combination with the sustainable, 100% recycled Sympatex membrane and the 100% recycled fleece lining, this is a «feel-good package» for winter cyclists. This quality was also rated very positively by retailers in the sell-in for winter 2020.
Oliver Korden has been head of shoes at VAUDE for five years. He comes from the footwear sector and previously worked for running shoe company ASICS and Scott Sports. Before joining VAUDE, the 47-year-old family man worked as Product Line Manager Footwear at Intersport.
Dear Oliver, thank you very much for the interview!