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Vagabond Shoemakers to focus on reducing emissions

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Image: courtesy of Vagabond Shoemakers

Swedish footwear brand Vagabond Shoemakers is looking to reduce emissions “going forward” following the release of its sustainability report for 2020.

Last year the brand said in the wake of the pandemic it focused on breaking down its value chain to better apply its sustainability activities to each company function. This evaluation work was done alongside switching to more sustainable materials, “component by component” as it pushes for prolonging the product life cycle with initiatives including the Shoe Bring Back concept and a trial production of outsoles in rubber recycled from old Vagabond shoes.

Through its evaluation, the footwear brand has agreed to reduce its emissions to air by 50 percent before 2030 and will commit to calculating emissions as a main operational focus for 2021 onwards.

Reducing emissions has become a focus due to the brand’s online store growth by 40 percent in the number of pairs sold. This increased its air shipments to end-consumers, resulting in emissions increasing from 7 percent to 24 percent. Shipments by air are used for the US, Canada and Russia, European markets use land transportation.

Anna Fahle Björcke, head of corporate communications and sustainability coordinator, said in a statement: “During 2020 we assessed our value chain to identify key areas, and as a result, we decided to primarily focus on reducing our air emissions. We also agreed that calculating emissions will be our main operational focus for 2021 onwards, which leads to the start of our Green House Gas calculation programme.”

Other priorities, noted from the brand’s analysis in 2019 and worked on during 2020, includes materials, transparency, emissions to air, clean water, process chemicals, its workplaces, and production working conditions.

Key sustainable strategies include the reduction and substitution of process chemicals that can be environmentally and/or health hazards in the production of material, shoes and accessories, alongside looking into sustainable and circular materials, while reducing overproduction, increasing the opportunities for reuse/recycling of products and making more environmentally friendly shoe care and maintenance to extend the lifetime of shoes and accessories.

Vagabond Shoemakers switching to sustainable materials “component by component”

When it comes to materials and the circular economy, Vagabond Shoemakers states it will continue to use leather as its key choice of material. However, even though its leather is a by-product from the meat industry, it is also ensuring that it only sources sustainably processed leathers. Within the production process, it has initiated a full-scale mapping of all its materials to ensure less waste and less use of reinforcement materials, such as avoiding material mixes which is more difficult to repair, separate and reuse.

Since 2019, Vagabond Shoemakers has also been a member of the Leather Working Group (LWG), and by 2022, it has committed to only purchasing leather from LWG rated tanneries as the leather is produced according to strict environmental requirements and the best existing standard available for the leather industry.

When it comes to leather substitutes, Vagabond Shoemakers admits that no full leather replacement material has been found that meets the Vagabond quality requirements. “This is a challenge, since long lasting products are one of our key sustainability markers,” adds the footwear brand in the report.

For 2020, 43 percent of all its leather materials were from LWG rated tanneries, which is about the same level as for 2019. During the pandemic in 2020, scarcity of material and the fact that the LWG audit programme has been delayed has, in turn, resulted in Vagabond Shoemakers not being possible to progress as quickly as expected.

Last year all of its shoes with leather inner soles were also made with chrome-free tanned leather to prevent chrome allergies. While all textile linings and textile inner soles were either in organic GOTS certified cotton, Tencel or recycled polyester, meaning that 100 percent of its shoes with inner textile soles and lining are made from more sustainable material choices.

Vagabond Reborn the brands first close the product loop collection

Vagabond has also been committed to reducing the amount of waste that it produces and finding a new purpose for shoes that are ready for reuse and recycling. In the first half of 2020, it launched its first mini collection of recycled post-consumer soles ‘Vagabond Reborn’ made with outsoles made from a rubber-mix consisting of 50 percent old used Vagabond shoes from the Shoe Bring Back programme. As part of this first attempt to close the product loop, 120 pairs of shoes were presented and sold through its online store.

Overall, 2020 is described as the “next step” to further engage all departments and divisions on its sustainability journey and has allowed the footwear brand to identify impact areas and actions needed, such as further strengthening its list of restricted substances by having internal chemical training.

In its 2020 sustainability report, Vagabond Shoemakers added: “As a result of the pandemic, most of these sustainability improvements are agreed but not yet implemented. This year became a year where we needed to first of all sustain our operations, by putting our staff, our client’s and supplier’s best interests first. Moving into 2021, we know we will still be in a pandemic mode, but with the tools to keep striving for sustainability improvements.”

Vagabond Shoemakers sells about 1.5 million pairs a year and is present in more than 45 markets. Besides Scandinavia, key markets are Germany, the UK, the US and Russia.

Leather Working Group
Sustainable Footwear