LONDON, United Kingdom — When global sport and lifestyle company Puma decided to redesign its trademark shoe box, it turned to Yves Béhar, industrial designer and founder of fuseproject, a San Francisco-based design and branding firm behind the hundred-dollar Xo laptop and Jawbone headset
After 21 months, an evaluation of 40 prototypes, and visits to distribution centres, manufacturing plants, storage facilities and retail points across Europe and Asia, the result was revealed to The Business of Fashion and other members of the international media last week at London’s Design Museum: a re-usable, recyclable, non-woven plastic bag that holds a single, unprinted sheet of 100% recycled cardboard in place.
Known as the “Clever Little Bag,” the design allows Puma to save 8,500 tons of paper, 20 million megajoules of electricity, 1 million liters of fuel oil and water, and 500,000 litres of diesel every year. It’s part of Puma’s ambition to make all of its packaging materials fully sustainable by 2015, an objective set by “PUMAVision,” the company’s narrative for an improved future.
However imperfect, Puma’s attempts at sustainability bear semblance to the spirit of architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart’s Cradle-to-Cradle manifesto, a support strategy aimed to propel industries into a better, greener industrial revolution. The idea is to "be research-minded and ambitious… It is not about competition or controlling your neighbor,” Braungart writes.
It’s a point echoed by Béhar: “The goal here is not to capture business and to hold it tight and keep it to yourself." Indeed, Puma’s sustainability index, or “S-Index,” was made publicly available to other companies in order to help set global standards of compliance for defining the sustainability of a product.
But what does this initiative mean in terms of bottom line?
According to Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, the costs associated with realizing these goals will initially have a “slightly negative effect, which we’ve already factored into our product development costs.” But “in terms of net savings in the mid- to longer term, we hope that the cost effects will be neutral,” continued Mr. Zeitz.
Perhaps most importantly, Zeitz is also cognisant of an underlying shift in consumer expectations: “they are becoming increasingly discerning in their purchasing choices.” When it comes to sustainability, PUMAVision and its Puma’s S-Index standard “offer a seal of assurance,” he said
Indeed, as consumer expectations continue to evolve, the rest of the apparel and fashion industry—high fashion and luxury goods included—is not exempt from the call for smarter design and sustainable innovation.
The fashion industry needs to “deliver something their customers want… not just to promote great lifestyles, but also to promote healthy ways of living and consuming,” said Béhar, who has collaborated with Swarovski, Hussein Chalayan, and most recently, Issey Miyake to design intelligent products.
He believes this kind of change is obligatory: “Realistically, these 21st century issues are not only here to stay, they’re here to make or break any business in the near future… if you’re not doing it, you’re a dinosaur and you’re on the way to extinction.”
Elizabeth Peng, an M.A. student in Fashion Journalism at Central St Martins, is an editorial intern at The Business of Fashion.