A Sprint Towards Values

What’s Up

The pandemic ushered in many changes and one major shift has to do with how people regard their own health. According to GWI, 73% of consumers said they’re more conscious of protecting their physical and mental health than before the pandemic. Another shift in consumer behavior is centered around sustainability, particularly when it comes to clothing and fashion. GWI data shows us that 58% of consumers are now willing to pay more for sustainable fashion items.

These two consumer priorities — fitness and sustainability — are coming together in the fashion and apparel category with new attention on footwear and on the environmental impact of running shoes in particular. An innovative running shoe launch from Swiss brand On Running highlights these key themes in the running shoe category. Cloudprime is their newly debuted running shoe which uses upcycled thermoplastic polyurethane and a midsole made using carbon emissions. The climate-friendly shoe was developed in partnership with Novoloop, a materials startup focused on plastics circularity, among others, and displayed at Climate Week 2022 in New York City September 19-25.

What it Means

This innovation speaks to sustainability and specifically, the reduction of fossil fuels and plastics found in most running shoes. Post-pandemic, consumers are more determined to make real changes and they understand that where they choose to spend money matters — 50% of people believe businesses that produce and sell plastic are most responsible for reducing plastic waste, according to a 2022 data from Corona Insights. This sustainability expectation is paired with growing demand from more active consumers. The global athletic footwear market is growing as a result of this increased activity and more running shoe brands and retailers have made sustainability pledges, displaying commitment to making lasting changes:

  • Asics promised to reduce CO2 emissions by 63% by 2030 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • SportsShoes.com has vowed to become the world’s most sustainable running equipment retailer by the year 2025.
  • Running brand Brooks communicated plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.
  • Crocs declared its intent to become a net-zero company by 2030 .
  • Nike and adidas have set a target date of becoming net-zero by 2050.

We’re also seeing innovation around materials — the challenge being to maintain performance and comfort standards while improving environmental credentials. Early in 2022, Koio introduced regenerative luxury sneakers, Brooks launched its first carbon neutral shoe, and over the past few years, adidas worked with Allbirds and Parlay to create more eco-responsible running shoes.

These greener initiatives and innovations are likely to appeal to the consumer base looking to brands to be more sustainable. According to GWI’s August 2022 US Circular Economy report, 35% of consumers say that a poor environmental track record would drive them away from a brand and the same proportion said that false sustainability claims would drive them away. Sporting goods consumers, specifically, are more focused on sustainability — McKinsey’s Sporting Goods 2022: The New Normal is Here report found that 2 out of 3 sporting goods consumers say that sustainability is an important factor when purchasing apparel.

Performance remains important for running shoe consumers — there will likely be no replacement for comfortable, lightweight shoes that facilitate fitness and outdoor activities. As per Markets & Research, consumers are willing to pay more for features like waterproofing, moisture management, temperature control, and friction regulation; and higher income consumers are more willing to pay extra for performance. Further, the category has seen an expansion of what “performance” means for sneakers and running shoes with brands entering the metaverse. Nikeland, Nike’s Roblox virtual experience saw over 7 million visitors during its first five months of existence, Puma, New Balance, Sketchers, and Under Armour all created metaverse experiences bringing virtual engagement to customers. Virtual experiences, framed as exclusive benefits or perks which accompany a purchase may help consumers justify the price of sneakers, especially as sustainable options tend to be more expensive.

Personal health and fitness is undeniably connected to the health of the planet for more people. The notions of sustainability and performance are linked for consumers and digital marketers should create messaging and brand experiences that highlight a brand’s sustainability commitments. Digital marketers can use a metaverse presence or IRL influencer relationship to tell a brand story that places eco-consciousness not just alongside the delivery of product that works, but as an integral part of the business. As consumers become more sophisticated about what makes a brand environmentally-friendly or not, marketers must continue expanding the ways clients communicate why their sustainability claims are authentic and accurate.

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