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Is the footwear market ready for renewables?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Fashion |Interview

Image: Coachtopia

UPM Biochemicals is a part of a Finnish company that makes eco-friendly materials from wood. Last year they committed to spend 750 million euros to build the world’s first industry scale bio-refinery in Germany. The factory will make chemicals from wood instead of oil, replacing fossil fuel with renewable sources and sustainable materials. They will use these chemicals to produce things like glue for shoes.

Dongsung Chemical is a company from South Korea that makes chemicals too. As a strategic partner to UPM Biochemicals they are finding innovative methods to produce materials such as eco-friendly footwear adhesives that are better for the planet.

Answering six questions regarding the future of biochemicals in footwear, Dr. Michael Duetsch, VP of UPM Biochemicals and Mr. Man Woo Lee, CEO of Dongsung Chemical unveil their thoughts on sustainability in their sector.

What are the major trends in the footwear market right now? Do you see a trend toward renewable materials in the footwear market?

Mr. Man Woo Lee (MWL): Renewable, recycling, eco-friendly and even bio-degradable are buzzwords widely used in the footwear industry. Nowadays, younger generations consider several different factors when making a purchase. These include the functionality and design of the product, the brand, the environmental impact of the production process, and the lifecycle of the materials. Among these considerations, “eco-friendly” is a new mega-trend that we are increasingly seeing.

Why is it important that global brands, for example, clothing and shoe companies transform their products to become more sustainable?

Dr Michael Duetsch (MD): We have to move quickly to a new way of doing business to preserve our climate and the earth on which we are living. Big companies are demanding sustainable solutions and if you look at the value chain from raw materials to products, we will fulfil a key step. We take the sustainable raw material - wood in our case - and convert it to chemicals. This process is essential to transform the economy into something new, which we call the sustainable bioeconomy. The textile and packaging industries, for example, have a really big impact on sustainability as the majority of materials used are fossil-based. Clearly, we need to find a sustainable solution. We want to make our contribution to change this and create more sustainable industries.

What options do they have in the current market - global brands?

MD: Global brands are embracing a circular economy, recognising the importance of reusing and recycling materials. In the future beyond fossils, there will be only three sources of carbon – biomass, recycled materials and CO2. By establishing a way to convert biomass into these materials, we are complementing a circular economy.

Which role do suppliers in the clothing and shoe industry value chain play in driving this transformation?

MD: Achieving circularity in textiles is not that easy because they are usually made from composite materials, which makes recycling difficult. At UPM, we help suppliers to become more sustainable by providing them with sustainable raw materials.

How important is it that customers and consumers understand how the forest feedstock is sourced and why?

MD: Woody biomass, which comes from sustainably managed forests, is the licence to operate for UPM as a whole, but especially for biochemicals. We can prove that the wood we are sourcing is not only legally sourced, but also sustainably sourced, and this is the starting point of the long value chain from biomass to the end consumer.

Do you think that consumers of products like sport shoes are looking for renewable products?

MD: We have to fight against climate change, and unfortunately, this will not change over the next few years or decades. Therefore, the kinds of products that will help to protect the climate have a bright future.

The focus of sustainable solutions is on the circular economy. This will be complemented by sustainable raw materials, virgin raw materials, which are sustainably sourced. Both together will form the sustainable, renewable carbon circular economy which is the focus of our end consumers, the brand owners who serve these consumers and the raw material suppliers, like UPM.

Circular Economy
Sustainable Fashion