photo credit Ryan D Matzner
An article came across my feed this weekend which caught my attention. It is understandable if you missed it amongst the whirlwind of news activity during these unsettling times. This article described an encounter one gentleman named Ryan Matzner had with discarded sneakers outside of a Nike store in Manhattan’s Soho district, left to be tossed in the garbage. While investigating the bags of what appeared to be perfectly usable sneakers, he noticed one major issue: All the sneakers had been intentionally slashed to make sure they couldn’t be worn. As the founder of Wearable Collections, a NYC based clothing and shoe recycling company, this article brought to light a practice that has been bothering me for years.
I am not writing this to bash Nike because I know they are not alone in protecting their brand by this method. I also believe Nike has made great strides in bringing transparency to their supply chain and taken on a leadership with sustainability initiatives and membership in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. What I do find troublesome is that the company who internally developed their own shoe recycling initiative – Nike Reuse a Shoe – doesn’t have built in logistics to handle these sneakers in a better way than tossing them into landfills. If this is happening at Nike, you can only imagine what is going on at other apparel companies across the world.
Nike, better than almost any company, knows what goes into the production of a pair of sneakers. From a labor perspective, from an energy and materials perspective and from a distribution perspective. They have done a tremendous amount of research to figure out the environmental impact and have done a great job of reducing their negative impact. So how can a company so well versed on the issues of sustainability be slashing and tossing it’s own product?
Operating a clothing and shoe recycling company based out of the fashion capital of the world, we have seen our fair share of slashed goods. Probably enough to dress a small country. We are constantly in conversations with apparel companies who want to discard unusable merchandise properly and make their design floors more sustainable. I understand the issues a company may have with trademark and proprietariness but I think some of these are outdated, short sighted and need to be evaluated. The idea that there are trade secrets behind a garment in an industry that rife with designers finding “inspiration” from other designers and brands seems laughable. I also have a hard time accepting the notion that it is a fear of flooding the market with underpriced goods since the amount of garments that are slashed doesn’t make a dent compared to the amount actually sold. Brand protection? Do people really look down on a brand for being compassionate? Let me tell you, once the shoes are purchased and donated at the end of first wearers use, it’s likely that the brand can end up on anyone’s feet in any part of the world.
Slashing goods is an ancient practice that really needs to be updated. But if you must slash the goods, please know that there are myriad companies that can help you handle these goods in a more responsible way. It may even be worthwhile to engage some of these companies beforehand to help re-think end of life uses for these garments that can better utilize these materials and re-purpose them bypassing the need for slashing. In an era where our government is trying its hardest to discredit human impact on the climate, it is important that both individuals and corporations take every step possible to protect the progress we’ve made. It wasn’t that long ago that a similar episode of trashing its own goods led to a PR nightmare for H & M, even trending on twitter for several days. One positive outcome of the incident was that H & M created a take-back/recycling program which has been an industry leader. We can only hope that Nike learns a lesson from this and goes a step further in educating the public on the needs of recycling and providing solutions to do so.