Ceeze's sustainability rules.
“You see all these brands talking about sustainability and implementing it into the product cycle. For smaller brands like Ceeze, it’s something we’ve been doing!”
What makes a design sustainable? We can mention the choice of materials, the sources of these materials, their durability, their impact on the planet if they're discarded...
It's not that difficult to follow the manual. In fact, for some newer brands with an open mind to the world, these are the rules.
Ceeze works like this and does not discard the other pillars of sustainability that talk about social and economic impacts, in addition to environmental. The NYC brand has been working since 2013 with the transformation and customization of kicks, valuing people, stories, and clean materials.
In an exclusive chat with Connor Seltz, Ceeze's founder and creative director, he opens up about the turning point for creating greener sneaker goods and how that awareness has been built over time. Just keep scrolling.
To those who argue sustainability isn't a crucial part of modern creation, what's your response?
It is a huge task, and I cannot emphasize enough how vividly important this is. To be frank, we can't really make things without materials and there comes a point where climate change and crop devastation have an immediate impact on what's available.
The Guardian published, I read this last night, that it's not only climate change, conflict and war, and locusts. There are 30 million people in Africa who are at the point of starvation, or very close, on the edge of stage four food insecurity. This isn't just limited to places that are distant, this will be in our neighborhood, in our home, in our nation, whether it's due to pandemic or not.
For any brand, the sustainability factor in production needs to exist. Sean Wotherspoon is a great beacon of how things should be done, he's a unicorn in the industry right now, stepping up and speaking about being environmentally considerate in making products. You see all these renowned brands talking about sustainability and implementing it into the product cycle. For us as industry and consumers, it comes down to the smaller brands moving in stride, if not faster, then the Kerings and LVMHs of the world!
Do you think adopting sustainable practices has the potential to significantly improve the end result of a product, and ultimately elevate the industry as a whole?
When we make our shoes, we follow classical processes in sourcing, cutting, and stitching, but it's how we leverage the whole hide that makes our process different. We look at each hide and analyze its cuts, knicks, and blemishes to find new ways to insert it into our cutting blade to maximize the amount of each hide we can use. This change has allowed us to increase our hide usage by 15-30% which is thousands of pounds saved from the landfill each year.
For us, this starts at sourcing, going out of the way to find vendors who are doing things right, not just rushing to make their money. We don't really want to enable sourcing leather from feedlots and cattle farms that are responsible for producing and releasing hundreds of cubic pounds of CO2 in the air. We want to find those sustainable farms that are doing things right, even if it costs you a little more. Those US$10-US$30 are worth it for the health of our home.
Were ethical production and minimal waste practices a priority of Ceeze from the beginning? What point do you consider to be "the breakthrough"?
I started Ceeze and working within this vertical through an accident, my only thought for the first three years of my career was, “let's make some cool shit.” At no point in my initial process was I thinking, "Hey, how can I cut down my CO2 emissions and all these other things."
For us, the moment that became an “okay, people really like this” was in 2020 when we worked with a CBD brand out of Colorado named Pachamama. We made organic shoes HU NMD Adidas shoes, we put a lot more into the process of that product, we learned a lot more, and we had our answer. It was one of those things in which we all agreed with the post-launch of the product and agreed that this was something we needed to bake into our daily operations.
And I think that was a breakthrough, when we all realized that "okay, this isn't just an industry trend, this is now something we must think about tangibly every time we get into a product." But veering back to the first, second, third question about sustainability and approach, what's exciting is a lot of the larger projects we have coming, something we talked with Gucci about, some other things we're working on now with Microsoft and Red Bull. We're already implementing these things into the initial pitch.
Every year when we all look back and go, "did we make the right decisions? Are we doing the right thing? What else can we further scrutinize to make sure we're lessening our negative impact in our products? Not only on the supply chain but in actual development."
Sneaker culture can take on this hyper-consumption attitude of "needing" to cop every new pair that drops ― what do you think about that perspective, and how does sustainability tie in?
The problem we face with consumption is global, each click has an impact on emissions. That item didn't just grow and appear on your doorstep. Looking at plastics, our usage now has microplastics in our seafood, elements so small they will never be truly removed from the ecosystem.
As for consumers' nature and habits, we are going the right way.
Acknowledging the problem is the first part of the solution, and to your point, we are absolutely and will forever be creating within streetwear in this hyper-driven consumer cycle. If something is cool and everyone wants it, therefore it has value, and then it's bought. While this is always great for brands, myself included, no one wants to drop a product that destroys an environment or ecosystem.
This process is kind of twofold, if you're doing things the wrong way, you're not disposing of your waste, you're not knowledgeable about the chemicals and processes that you use. You are only further contributing to one of the work elements of ecological devastation.
On the other side of this, there are a lot of brands today that are focusing on sustainability through all their products. There's a number of things, most of the majors are doing behind the scenes, not talking about it, to manage and modernize cutting and multiple parts of their business to decrease waste and streamline green logistics.
These are things that, if you have products in-line and truly streamlined to your programming, are already baked in. You're already doing your due diligence, you don't have to go openly talk about it. Which I do think is so cool. Nike did a great job too with its, like with the Space Hippie that had the repurposed rubber outsoles.
Most mainstream brands these days are highlighting their sustainable practices, as the topic becomes more and more important to consumers. What sets Ceeze apart?
I feel like we're at that moment of hyper collaboration, where everyone's doing something soft drink plug, or another branded moment. Money is money, opportunities are opportunities. I think there's this fine line between things that put money in the bank and things that you creatively really want to do.
There's this middle ground, and for us, in our vision, our narrative, we want to make sure we're making things in the middle. And if not, we are going to make sure that, when it comes to creativity, photography, and story, we can steer them at least 10% more our way, out of true infatuation with the moment.
Sustainability, I think, needs that center stage, and it needs a light shined on it, and those moments are so keen.
The more moments we get, whether it's NFTs or digital items that have zero negative footprint, for just items that we can ensure are closed-loop. The sustainability driver is really what's next for us.
So, we have to break that mold of, "Yeah, we made our shoes like that, that's also why this item has a matching price point." So, it's one of those things for the future and the next 6-12 months. I think it's really exciting, the ability to not only drive new items, like the upcycled crossbodies and wallets, but to be able to work with partners whose all processes are sustainable.
We're making exciting moments that fit in collaborative calendars, but ensuring that all are green, whether it's spoken about or not, I think that's really our future. Finding the new way, like all those projects with extraneous and random uppers, into furniture, and more lifestyle material.
The future is really exciting, and just to have the ability to break out of what people and consider when the year “custom shoes or bespoke.”
Our mantra for the future is simple, wherever we go and whatever we channel, we want to make sure the same obsessive detail that goes into our product also goes into the sourcing and logistics behind the product. If we apply this attention to our product development cycle, we might have a planet to make goods on in 30-40 years.
And we hope that more and more initiatives for the planet will become a reality as soon as possible.
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