We swapped messages with Lisa Ly, the Sustainability Manager at Clarks, to find out more about the challenges of instilling sustainable thinking at a historic brand and the exciting eco-innovations currently taking place in footwear.
Tell us more about your role at Clarks?
I am the Sustainability Manager at Clarks. I look after our global footprint: from our stores to products we produce. I love my role; I get to work on the most important topic in our lifetime - climate and environment. It’s not just a passion of mine but business critical for all industries to act now.
I get to work with likeminded colleagues here at Clarks. We are product obsessed, and all want to produce better products, making it easier for our consumers to make a more conscious purchasing choice.
This means I get to working with product teams and our suppliers abroad, switching from conventional materials to more sustainable options like using recycled materials, biobased instead of synthetics, FSC certified rubber, responsibly sourced leathers, etc. Looking into our own operations, reducing carbon footprint – we’ve actually been using renewable energy since 2019 in all our UK stores, distribution centre and offices! Collaborating with industry experts, government initiatives and other brands around the world. I love the sustainability space because you are encouraged to share more so that we can all reach the same goal.
We have a lot of really exciting stuff coming up. Look out for more of our fantastic sustainable products offerings in the upcoming seasons, development of our carbon reduction strategy and our priority materials. Make sure you keep an eye out on our social platforms!
What does sustainability mean to you?
My technical answer would be reducing carbon, water and waste, to maintain an ecological balance. But personally, I think sustainability is about understanding your own individual impacts, being aware of your own footprint, from the things you eat to your purchasing choices. It’s so important for everyone to start questioning where are your products coming from, what are the impact of my purchase and how long would I keep this for?
What are the challenges in making a large and historic brand like Clarks more sustainable?
Leather! We are famous for our leather shoes and have been using great quality leather for many years to make our amazing smart shoes and quirky trainers, we use it in nearly all of our product categories. We know as a brand leather makes the largest carbon impact for our business, and it’s not an easy material to solve.
We stand by leather as it is a long-lasting material compared to other alternatives and we only use leather that’s a by-product from the food industry, but we acknowledge there is so much more for us to do in this space. We want to go down the supply chain and understand the impacts at a deeper level. We’ve already made a start by sourcing from tanneries that are annually assessing their environmental footprint (93% of our tanneries so far).
We know we are not perfect, but we strive to protect the planet and make history in Clarks legacy!
What piece of advice would you give to anyone trying to live more sustainably?
Buy better. Invest in products you know you’ll still love in 5 years. Be curious about your footprint and the products you buy. Who made it? What material is it. And finally, trust that your small contributions to sustainability will make a huge impact
We love your Clarks ShoeShare initiative; how did this get started?
As a brand we’ve always cared for the communities that touch Clarks and the goal for ShoeShare is to support children to receive quality education, because we do believe all children around the world deserve an education. That’s why we partnered with UNICEF and have so far donated over £1.6 million to support global initiatives from schools in the UK to classrooms in Africa.
Not only does ShoeShare help fund quality education but it also helps our customers find a new home for their unwanted shoes. Prolonging a pair of shoes use is always better than throwing them away in landfill! We accept donations in our stores, or you can check if your local school is participating in our ShoeShare programme!
What new innovations or fabrics are you excited about for the future?
There are so many innovations out there from materials made from algae or bacteria to agricultural waste but the quirky one I would love to see in the future is bio-fabricated leather (lab grown leather- just like lab grown burgers!) instead of using conventionally sourced leather from cows, they come from labs that look and feel the same as leather. This isn’t commercial yet but the possibilities for greener alternatives in future are endless.