12.3.19 / Global

To Tackle Waste in the Fashion Industry, AERA Shoes Are 110% Sustainable

Leading the way to conscious fashion

By Tansy Kaschak, AHL Sustainability Editor

There is something magical about a new pair of shoes. They are often the most coveted
pieces in a person’s wardrobe and the plateau from which some of the juiciest fashion dreams are born. We choose colors, shapes, and textures we use fashion to express our creativity, define our identity and declare to the world who we are. Fashion is our most accessible and playful way of non-verbal communication.

But the colossal impact of the fashion industry on the environment is alarming. From the farming of crops and animals to make materials, to manufacturing and logistics, the sector generates 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It is also responsible for a fifth of the global water pollution, a third of the microplastics in the oceans, and it is estimated that textiles make up 5% of all landfills in the US.

The footprint is so grand it can make us feel discouraged. What can we do about it? Where do we start? How do we shift the scenario while maintaining respect for the jobs and the people involved in it? How do we make better choices, and look good while doing so?

With these questions in mind, Tina Bhojwani, who spent 20 years working for large
corporations including Donna Karan, Theory and Dolce & Gabbana, shoe designer Jean-Michel Cazabat, and sustainable businesses investor Alvertos Revach decided to create AERA, a footwear brand that not only neutralizes its environmental impact, but that goes one step further by offsetting it by 110%. Their ultimate goal is to create shoes with zero-to-positive impact on the environment, and to set new standards for the industry.

[AERA founders Tina Bhojwani, Jean-Michel Cazabat, Alvertos Revach]

To be 110% sustainable, AERA partnered with SCS Global Services (SCS) to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment and ensure that the impacts from producing, transporting, storing, and delivering their shoes are accurately measured. With those results, AERA has invested in Green Trees Reforestation to offset the carbon emissions and purchased BEF Water Restoration Certificates to offset their freshwater consumption. AERA shoes are vegan, made of low-pollutant leather alternatives—leather is the highest pollutant apparel material, many times more impactful than the synthetic options— and, to further their commitment to reduce waste, the brand is working with Plastic Bank to source ‘Social Plastic,’ which is recycled plastic that has been prevented from going into the oceans. To do so, Plastic Bank empowers people in countries with significant plastic pollution issues (including Haiti, the Philippines, and Indonesia) to earn a living by collecting and transforming plastic waste into currency and then having this plastic waste recycled and sold as Social Plastic.

While luxury consumers are more and more concerned with social and environmental causes, the most important drivers of purchasing behavior still are quality and aesthetics. Products with a higher purpose need to do good but also be aesthetically appealing and aligned with the highest standards. “When we decided to create the brand, I knew our shoes could not look like vegan shoes. They needed to be beautiful, elegant and comfortable as any well-made luxury shoe”, says Bhojwani.

This year, 32 fashion companies, including Chanel, Ralph Lauren, and Prada, as well as fast fashion players like H&M Group and Zara, signed the Fashion Pact, a non-legally binding agreement to combat greenhouse gasses and emphasize sustainability in the industry. It was introduced by Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault at the 2019 Group 7 in Biarritz, France, and shows that sustainability, which was just a niche concern a few years ago, is now a top priority.

[AERA shoes are handmade in Veneto, Italy]

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