HOKA, the athletic shoe brand, is only ten years old, yet the company boasts a revenue of $353million as of March 2020. As a company that boasts sustainable materials and practices through their media presence and partnerships, one must wonder how truly sustainable they have remained while also displaying a growth trajectory of such magnitude.
HOKA provides its customers a very transparent look into their sustainability goals and current actions being made in terms of consumption habits and material usage. While their goals cover an expansive scope of environmental issues, the company fails to provide a concrete plan or set of actions to achieve these. Furthermore, the work that is currently being done, while a good start for what truly is another mass production market item, is only scratching the surface of their total possibilities and plans.
HOKA is actively utilizing preferred sustainable alternatives to the materials found in typical running shoes and sneakers. This includes seeking out recycled, renewable, regenerated, and natural materials for this shoes key materials. Some examples of these responsible-preferred materials include Recycled Polyester (rPET), Leather Working Group (LWG) Certified Leather, Recyclable Packaging, and certain styles that offer completely Vegan alternatives.
Through their use of these sustainable material alternatives, HOKA is making an effort to reduce their individual impact, and their statistics are showing progress. In 2019 alone, with the rPET material made from landfill diverted water bottles, HOKA was able to redirect approximately 14,900,000 bottles from the landfill. The choice to source leather solely from LWG certified tanneries ensures their sources maintain protocols promoting sustainable and appropriate environmental business practices within the often pollutant leather industry. All of these direct choices to invest in alternative materials have allowed HOKA to see a reduction in their energy, water, and CO2 consumption habits. It’s a positive start to see companies investing in and implementing this type of technology, and I would love to see HOKA continue seeking out alternative material options.
While the statistics look great independently, we must look at these impacts holistically in terms of total material usage. Looking at HOKA’s total Fiber Usage Breakdown, these sustainable material alternatives boasted on their website and throughout their sustainability reports only makes up 21.3% of all fibers used in their production. While I applaud their transparency with this information, I believe HOKA has a long road ahead until they can advertise their shoe brand as truly sustainable or utilizing recycled alternatives.
Like many items in the fashion industry, HOKA still maintains a mass production process that is inherently unsustainable and supports the wasteful trends of overproduction and overconsumption. However, as a company who focuses on alternatives to decrease their impact and consumption, HOKA does discuss several actions that have been taken to support clean energy and reduce their carbon, water, and waste usage. HOKA claims a reduction in their carbon and greenhouse gas emissions after a recent transition of production operations to Vietnam, where they place a higher emphasis on hydroelectricity rather than China that relies rather heavily on coal. However, often compensation for workers in such communities can be a controversial topic over exploitation vs fairness in the realm of social responsibility. While I am impressed with the intentional choices and action HOKA is making to involve the conversation around sustainability into their operations, the scale of these changes and implementation needs to increase in order to reach their full potential.
HOKA’s president, Wendy Yang is the first female president of a running brand. Her position has gained HOKA good will under terms of equality and diversity amongst employees. However, while offering the typical appropriate benefits and presenting a positive work environment for their main headquartered staff, one must question the entire production line.
Like stated earlier, HOKA’s supply chain production occurs in Vietnam, similar to most mass production companies that have moved operations to Asian countries. There is minimal discussion on their website or reports regarding the wages or treatment of their supply chain employees, or direct benefits that provide to improve the sustainable procurement and lives of their workers, leading to some lack of transparency over the total operational process.
With regards to corporate social responsibility, HOKA is involved in numerous partnerships and supports several organizations that work towards bringing the power of fitness and outdoors to everyone globally. Through these partnerships HOKA shows their support and commitment to encouraging communities often underrepresented in the athletics world, and shows their social responsibility towards empowering the global community. While the organization shows their support through the immense network of external partners, I believe there could be more direct action taken by HOKA and its employees to demonstrate intentional change in both their operational processes and materials.
While HOKA is currently making numerous efforts and tangible actions to decrease their environmental impact and provide products with sustainable materials, the truth is they have only scratched the surface, and they have a lot more work to do. It is good to see a running shoe brand placing emphasis on the need for sustainable changes in the industry, but while working under a mass production operation, these changes are only few and far between what needs to be done for total sustainability.