I don’t know about you, but I am always searching for the perfect pair of flip flops. Havaianas (the Portuguese word for “Hawaiians”), seem to tick the ‘perfect pair’ box; not only do they give you that wonderful tropical summer feeling, but they are comfortable, long-lasting, sturdy and trendy! That being said, it is difficult to tell how sustainable Havaianas products really are. Whilst the company has initiatives in place that are heading in a more sustainable direction, e.g. their recycling program, Havaiana does not provide consumers with sufficient information on important factors including resource use, greenhouse gas emissions, and labour practices. They also fail to specify exactly what their sustainability targets are. In my personal opinion, if Havaiana really is working toward achieving more sustainable practices within their company, they should ensure that this information is openly visible and accessible to their consumers. There is clearly a lack of transparency, which is concerning. Consumers have a right to know exactly what they are consuming and until Havaiana provides this information to their consumers, I would be hesitant to recommend supporting their brand.
The shoes are supposedly made from natural biodegradable latex which is sourced purely from the sap of rubber trees. Whilst normal latex also comes from rubber trees, it often contains other non-biodegradable/unnatural ingredients e.g. plasticisers and polymerised petroleum. The rubber that is used is harvested according to FSC standards, meaning that the plantations from which it originates are responsibly managed, with a limited impact on the environment, forests and people. The flip flops also come in a range of shades that do not contain animal glues. This sounds great and is seemingly environmentally friendly! However, my research suggests that biodegradable latex is often coated with ammonia and tetramethyl thiurum disulphide (a pesticide) plus zinc oxide to preserve the latex from bacteria - clearly that cannot be considered ‘natural’. All of these preservatives also have negative environmental impacts i.e. ammonia can acidify soil and cause toxic damage to plants; tetramethyl thiurum disulphide has been known to impact avian species and zinc oxide has been identified as potentially dangerous to aquatic organisms. Whilst these impacts definitely reduce the sustainability of Havaiana’s flip flops, there is not much information provided by Havaianas in this regard beyond their assertion that the rubber used is sustainably sourced and biodegradable.
We are informed that 60% of Havaianas soles are made up of recycled material. Whilst all this recycling sounds great, and a reduction in the amount of new materials being used is certainly a positive, it is important to consider the amount of resources required to recycle the shoes. At least 30% of the slip slops are still being made with new chemical materials which undoubtedly continue to have a negative environmental impact. Havaianas provide no information on the environmental impact that the components of their products have, re-enforcing the lack of transparency.
Havaiana produce over 250 million pairs of shoes per year, which is a lot of shoes! They are typically a little more expensive than your average slip slops and cost about $15 to $30. Despite their significant flip flop production, from personal experience, my Havaianas have lasted me several years, and are still in really good condition. To me, this illustrates that they are made to last longer which is certainly a positive for the environment. I believe that this quality separates the brand from other slip slops which are mass produced but are of poor quality.
As mentioned above, there is also a recycling program in place in partnership with Rubberlink, where one can return a pair of slip slops in any form or condition and have them recycled into new products including yoga mats and other shoes soles. This recycling program is a first step forward in the creation of a more circular slip slop economy, however the significant amounts of energy and resources needed to do this cannot be ignored. The website failed to report any information on what resources are used or the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the process.
It is noteworthy that there are only specific Havaianas shops in a handful of countries, where the shoes can be dropped off to be recycled. This means that a large proportion of shoes will not be recycled and will most likely end up in landfills. To be fair, Havaiana has stated that their recycling program is still in its infancy, acknowledging that there is room for improvement. However, they do not provide specifics on exactly how they are going to improve and the timeframe for this improvement. Accordingly, it remains unclear as to how important sustainability is to the company.
There are a quite a few slip slop products within the brand that are associated with a particular cause, including ocean protection, ecology and afforestation. A percentage of funds raised from each of these shoes is donated to NGO’s associated with these causes. According to Havaiana their donations have contributed towards planting 3.2 million trees into the Amazon basin. Whilst this is certainly a welcome initiative, I remain concerned that these efforts are simply there to reassure environmentally conscious consumers that they are consuming responsibly. In reality there is not enough information to assess the company’s commitment to sustainability, beyond donating money to other important causes.
Lastly, it is widely held that the mainstream shoemaking industry is exploitative and a significant contributor to various forms of pollution. Cheap labour and human rights violations are common. Unfortunately, Havaiana does not provide any information on how their shoes are made, i.e. the factories that produce their products and the working conditions in the factories. From a consumer’s standpoint, this information is important in making informed buying decisions and the fact that the company is keeping consumers in the dark about these important sustainability factors, gives me cause to be weary of the brand.
The flip flops are authentically made in Brazil. Given that Havaianas are sold worldwide, significant shipping is of course required, which has negative consequences for the environment, mostly through the release of greenhouse gases. There is no information on greenhouse gas emissions produced from their shipping operations or indeed any information on the environmental impact along the supply chain. Additionally, as discussed above, Havaiana does not disclose where their flip flops are made and by who, making it difficult to assess how fair the wages of the factory workers making the shoes are and the how adequate their working conditions are. This prevents consumers from making a fully informed choice when buying from Havaianas. Greater transparency is needed!