Product creation


Here James Carnes, Vice President Design for adidas Sports Performance explains how his team is responding to the environmental agenda.

Q: What are the key challenges for you in the Design team in 'going green'?

A: The key challenge is to find a way to go from recognising the importance of the topic to actionable ways of working. Targets are important but you need cultural change as well. You need to spread awareness so that people want to do it because it feels right, not just because they are being told to do it.

So the most obvious area for us to look at is our use of colours. We went through the numbers with the team, and there was no commercial reason to have 800 colours in use at any one time. We calculated we could use half that many. So that is now our target.

We showed our designers some photos of what happened in a factory when we made a decision to change from one orange to a slightly different orange. We all saw how much water, chemicals and materials were wasted. Now our designers have a connection with what it means to change a colour. They are emotionally empowered to achieve the 50% target.

Q: Is pursuing environmental goals a constraint to your team's creativity?

A: We asked ourselves the question: "Are we risking our ability to provide variety by reducing colour?" Our entire design directors' team said 'No'. We are increasing our ability to be a brand that has impact and sets trends by making bold decisions to be narrower in our focus.

Designers have a natural instinct to simplify. "How do I reduce this down to what I need to make a statement?" If you make sustainability a factor that they use to simplify, they get used to it.

Q: So environmental considerations can be an opportunity for you?

A: Yes, it starts to become one of the greatest opportunities for designers. Now they identify early on that there is an opportunity to steer a product to being high performance and also made in a sustainable way. In the past, it was a compromise to make something sustainable. Now the two things are striking a chord.

So for example, in footwear, we have a designer who was working on improving the process of making a line of trainers. He investigated simplifying the construction into only three separate components: the upper and cushioning system in one piece, the traction and then the tongue and laces. So that makes the product itself even more high-tech and high performance. But the ability to make the product without significant labour means it can be made in Germany or the USA. So you have less shipping and a smaller carbon footprint.

The VIK Fluid Trainer is the shoe we will give to the Olympic volunteers. It has achieved the highest level under Better Place and what we have done is to re-engineer the whole process so there is no cement holding the pieces together - it is all done with stitching. And they are made with recyclable materials. So without compromising performance, they can now be disassembled by the consumer and recycled.

It is part of the commitment we have made for London 2012. We decided every product should have some aspect of sustainability in it. The village apparel is made of 100% sustainable fabrics. As is the competition apparel and footwear, where we have been able to find a sustainable fabric to use that does not compromise performance.

Q: So what do you think consumers are looking for now from green products?

A: The time when people want a product that showcases in its aesthetic that it has been made sustainably are fading. They don't want to choose between a green product and a non-green product. Today's consumer wants a cool new look and for the product to be sustainable as well.

We are developing a new line for 2011 that tries to combine both the sport and sustainability technology in a new way. It is all about natural. The idea is that a performance product is not always about giving you a percentage increase in what you can do. Maybe your body is entirely capable of doing what it can do already, and the product unleashes that ability rather than enhances it.

So the statements this line makes are anti-tech - which is very modern - and also one about a natural, pure, modern aesthetic. It is parallel to what you see now in the auto industry. Tesla are making premium electric cars that look better than a car with a traditional engine. The message there is if you want something cooler, you take the responsible option. We think we can go in a similar direction.

Q: That all sounds very exciting... What are the next steps for your team?

A: We need to make sure we track these initiatives and that they are having the measurable impact we want them to have. So whether that is the colour strategy or material and fabric consolidation, we need some more people to manage those programmes, and make sure we implement them correctly.

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