“Today there is no excuse for any company to use new, virgin plastic,” Mr Gutsch said from New York. “We have proven consumers are willing to pay a little more money and … prefer products made from ‘ocean plastic’ than other recycled plastics or new plastics.”
Of course, working with a top sportswear company required Parley to address two key – and sometimes competing – criteria: performance and style.
“We wanted to take two things away from the pre-judgement that people have [about recycled fashion] – that it’s ugly and looks like a tree hugger, and it’s low quality,” Mr Gutsch said. “We have to make it an appealing and desirable mindset that it’s cool to be an environmentalist.”
Sustainable fashion editor and author Clare Press said fashion and environmentalism must never be viewed in isolation.
“I believe this is the future – fashion is a great innovator … we should and could be applying lots more of our energy to circularity,” she said.
Press said the Adidas project was commendable “because the messaging is so strong”. She also acknowledged the fashion industry is still finding a solution to the issue of microfibre “shedding” from recycled garments.
But initiatives such as Parley yarn are a great start, she said.
“When we talk about moving towards a circular fashion system the process is almost as complex as fashion itself. There are so many parts of the puzzle that need to be in place to make it work,” she said.
Shannon Morgan, brand director – Pacific of Adidas, said the tennis collection provided a platform to spread the message of ocean health.
He said Adidas had a goal to be 100 per cent recycled or upcycled in the near future. That’s not to say Adidas wasn’t environmentally conscious before – it’s just they didn’t always talk about it.
“Up until his partnership [with Parley] we never spruiked [our environmental credibility] at all,” he said. “We never told anyone. What we found globally is people feel more connected to the ocean – they draw a line to animals in the ocean. The moment we focused on the Parley message we have been a little bit more overt.”
In its first year using Parley plastic, Adidas sold 7000 pairs of its recycled shoes; in 2019, the goal is seven million pairs.
Ultimately, Mr Gutsch agrees he’d like to do himself out of a job by reducing ocean plastic to zero. The next challenge, he said, is developing responsible “post-plastic” materials.
“There is a lot of great [innovation] out there but you have to be suspicious … the plastic time is over,” he said. “The question is what is the replacement that doesn’t become the next big problem.”
Melissa Singer is national fashion editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.