From Threat to Thread

From Threat to Thread

From Threat to Thread

Adidas continues their partnership with Parley, fighting against marine pollution with UltraBOOST Parley – in stores today.

Adidas continues their partnership with Parley, fighting against marine pollution with UltraBOOST Parley – in stores today.

Text: Stella Pak

We’ve seen it before. Fossils of birds found on the beach with fluorescent plastic sitting in what would have been their stomachs within the dirt of the earth. Earlier this month, a whale was found in Thailand with 80 plastic bags in its stomach. The consequences of our everyday plastic consumption are just starting to rise to the surface with the help of Parley – a network of creative leaders and thinkers who help take action towards change. Parley’s partnership with Adidas Running started in 2015 and continues today with the recently revealed UltraBOOST Parley in a new Deep Ocean Blue colorway inspired by the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world's oceans. The UltraBOOST Parley is made with upcycled plastic, using 11 plastic bottles intercepted by beaches and coastal communities per shoe.

To celebrate the launch, a community of runners, ambassadors, and environmentalists joined together to Run for the Oceans at Pier 26 Hudson River Park. Each participant downloaded the Runtastic app to log in 5k alongside other 1200+ runners including one of V's favorites, Ashley Graham. Adidas furthered their commitment by matching a dollar per every kilometer ran by the community to reach $1M for Parley Oceans School.

V sat down with Cyrill Gutsh, founder of Parley to talk about marine pollution, the collaboration with Adidas, and the future of plastic.

What sparked the collaboration with Adidas and Parley?

At the beginning when I looked at plastic when we started Parley, we looked at different causes: overfishing, illegal fishing, plastic pollution, and other realities like that. We decided to go for plastic because nobody was really taking care of it and we felt that it’s such a major threat for our oceans and for our own health and nobody was seemingly investigating. Back in 2012 there really wasn't a climate for ‘“Oh my God, plastic is something bad.” So we felt that we need to take the cause on and make it big. We first asked ourselves the question: what can our world be? Because we’re designers.

You had started as a design agency, right?

Exactly. I was like “fuck,” you know, why would it not be an environmental organization? It doesn’t make much sense. But then it did because when you look at the environmental issues that we’re facing, the threats really that are damaging, everything, you realize very quickly that it’s all about business. It’s all about the way we’re making things and creating products and the materials we’re using . And who does that? Who gives the advice? Who creates the extra stuff?

The creatives.

The creatives! So we work for the industry and we have a very big influence on the economy. The idea was to find one brand that is on the crossroad between making and setting trends, but that is also big enough to actually change the industry, and that was Adidas. It took us two years to make a deal, but we were super stubborn. We wanted them as our first partners and as founding members. It took Eric Liedtke becoming the new CMO and he immediately said, "Let’s go." Without him, we wouldn’t be here.

Adidas totally trusted us and our vision, and that paid off in the long run. They also didn’t say, "Oh my God, we are a good company we have to pretend to be non-polluters." They did the complete opposite. They said "Oh, we’re making stuff that’s not good for the environment, but we want to change that." They took a stand and their commitment to transparency and willingness to take risks is what allowed us to marry them.

So what is the visual and actionable change that has evolved in collaboration with Adidas?

Adidas just committed this year to go away from the use of virgin plastic. That means not using any more freshly made, new made plastic.

So only up-cycled plastic?

Only up-cycled plastic. Ocean plastic actually.

That’s amazing.

And this is a signal that the competitors definitely can do more. This is a new standard. They also helped us to develop a funding model that allows us to grow as an organization. We decided that the trash that nobody wants that is out there somewhere, that nobody would retrieve before we started because it had no value, was going to be ours and... we declared it luxury. We said purpose is the new luxury. It’s not anymore about the value of a material like a gold, platinum, or whatever. It’s about the intention of making something. And taking a piece of plastic off a beach or a reef and making note of the committed action. And that gives the final product a strong value. That’s what we felt. And we said making these shoes out of that trash, from this up-cycled material that we call ocean plastic, is actually all about creating symbols of change. These shoes are more than just a shoe. They are like a flag really for our movement. There’s something going on with them and that means your shoe is a little light source into the darkness, and that feeling is when people say ‘Oh my God, there is something happening.’ It’s not the perfect end product and we are far away from that, but you know what?

It’s a start.

It’s an intention. It shows an intention. That’s what Adidas did and they are allowing us to build on that.

That’s amazing. And then here you are years later.

Yeah, we made one shoe in the beginning. It was a big concept shoe back then at the United Nations. It was a dream, it was not real. We made a shoe out of material that was not yet industrialized.

And now you have a collection.

And we made 2,500 pairs. Then we made 10,000 pairs, and then suddenly we made a million. And we’re now developing new materials out of it. We declared again at the United Nations on June 8 this year. We declared the material revolution and we announced that we have to accept that all harmful materials have to go. We cannot afford it anymore. We cannot surround ourselves anymore with poison.

What kind of substitutes?  What kind of design material substitutions can people start thinking about?

I think we are in a very weird moment. We’re in the moment where we woke up from this perfect dream of "Oh my God, we mastered the world. We are this amazing species that can create things." And finally we are realizing, "Oh damn, the stuff we’re creating actually destroys our planet." And then we don’t yet have an alternative because we live in a world that  doesn't demonize plastic. It has been good to us. It has a lot of functions that we wouldn’t otherwise have. As a civilization, we profited from it, but now it's our duty to replace it. That means we need new technologies.

So at this point right now the best thing you can do is to use our ocean plastic. That means recycled and up-cycled marine debris. But that’s not the solution long term. The solution will be to go for bio-fabricated material using green chemistry. There’s a lot of new stuff coming. I know there’s a new generation of materials coming that will have not only the ability to replace what we know already, but that will have new features that our current materials don't have. And that’s exciting as a designer, but again, in this moment we are just waiting.

You’re in limbo.

It’s like this moment of sci-fi.

There are some parts where it’s inevitable, right? Like we need plastic in certain situations/

Right now we do. But I think in the next 7-10 years, probably even faster, if we are creating this climate for it and actually making it attractive for investors and supporting all the creators of new materials and giving them the push they need, I believe that very soon we will be able to replace everything we’re using right now. I think 10 years from now we’re gonna laugh about these times where we polluted ourselves with all these synthetic materials. It does a lot of bad to us and it’s everywhere. It’s in the dust we breathe, it’s in the water we drink, it’s completely surrounding us. It’s in our bodies.

Even in the fish that we eat.

I was talking to a fisherman and he was telling me, "Oh no, our waters in the Indian Ocean, our fish don’t have plastic in them." And I said, "I’m will pay your full fuel costs for tomorrow if we don’t find plastic in the first 10 fish we open." All of them had plastic in their belly. And that’s not just little bits, like big chunks. And fish love that stuff. It’s candy for them. They’re attracted by it.

They’re attracted by it? Doesn't it damage their organs?

They eat it. They think it’s great. It even goes down to the level of the smallest creatures like plankton. They also eat the little plastic pieces

And then we eat them.

And then we eat it.

So it eventually it ends up our bodies.

So we eat it, we drink it, we wear it. We just created a superstar of a failure-monster really.

Can you tell me about the education program that is in tandem with this Adidas collaboration?

Adidas is really our family, and they’re like a founding partner of Parley. Adidas Running this year has committed to $1 million to Run for the Oceans, which is additional to what they support us already, so then there is this $1 million that will only be used for youth education.

That's wonderful!

And what we find to be true is that kids between 10 and 14 are the best activists.

Because they absorb everything.

Yes. They follow their instinct and they know what is wrong and they know what is right. If they believe in something, they fight for it. And the parents listen to them, they really do. They don’t want to show their kids that they’re irresponsible. So what we learned is that the way to the parents who own companies or run countries or just have functions and jobs in everyday life and communities or cities, is through the kids. And also what we realized is that in the countries where we’re operating at Parley home what most consider as paradise.

The people that live there often don’t relate to the sea. They’re sitting in paradise. Their backyard is the oceans, and it’s full of beauty and magic. People fly around the world and spend a fortune to dive there, surf there, or just hang out. But when you break it down, most of these people are scared by the water. They’re scared by the fish that live there and they think they are beasts. I think the solution in taking this anxiety away and to get people to connect with sea life, is getting them in the water. The program that is now being supported by Adidas allows us to get 63,000 kids in the Maldives in the water to get them familiar with the water and to meet the fish and make new friends down there. Then, they go home and educate their parents. So we’re going to 227 schools and getting the kids in the water and making our platform part of their curriculum.

That is huge! Congratulations.



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