A Way To Save The World’s Oceans

SLIDESHOW: Cyrill Gutsch: “How can we redesign plastic to make it harmless? How can we turn the problem into an opportunity? By creating a premium product out of it.”

Cyrill Gutsch is on a mission — to show how big brands can respect the oceans and still make a profit.

A German creative maverick based in Los Angeles, Cyrill Gutsch was inspired to set up Parley for the Oceans in 2012 when he met captain Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace and the head of the world’s most active marine non-profit organisation — the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson was risking a life in prison to defend whales; Gutsch was polluting the planet through design work he didn’t understand the consequences of. Overnight, Gutsch turned his company around to create Parley for the Oceans, a “platform where creators, thinkers and leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of our oceans and collaborate on projects that conserve and protect them in the future”.

Now Gutsch is on a mission to show how business can be done differently, how big brands can respect the oceans and still make a profit.

“Plastic is a design failure, it never dies,” Gutsch says. Today, a quarter of a million tons of plastic is floating in the oceans. Invisible to the human eye, plastic is broken down by UVs into micro or nano-plastics, filling the oceans with layers of plastic soup. He adds: “How can we redesign plastic to make it harmless? How can we turn the problem into an opportunity? By creating a premium product out of it.”

Enter Raw for the Oceans, a partnership between denim-brand G-Star Raw and Bionic Yarn, founded by hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams, to turn ocean plastic into denim with a purpose. “A simple pair of jeans became attractive the moment we changed the story: it was desirable because it was designed to help save the oceans. There was a sense of exclusivity around it, but it didn’t cost more. Now, we need to reach a critical mass to make a real difference,” Gutsch explains.

In December, Gutsch unveiled two new breakthroughs: a scheme to sustain the growth of Parley for the Oceans and help gain it a broader reach; and a new pair of forward-thinking recycled Adidas sneakers that follow these principles. Steve Richardson, director of apparel material innovation and sustainability at Adidas, is responsible for manufacturing tools that integrate recycled plastics. This year, with Parley for the Oceans, the German sportswear brand unveiled an innovative footwear concept based on a 3D-printed midsole made out of ocean plastic. The concept shoe consists of an upper made with ocean plastic content and a midsole that is 3D printed using recycled polyester and gillnet content.

“Fashion is at the crossroads of consumerism and innovation; it is able to communicate messages others can’t address — remember, jeans were a sign of rebellion before the Berlin Wall fell. Fashion embraces youth culture, expresses opinions. It has the power to make them ‘digestable’: like music and art, it’s a strong vehicle of change,” Gutsch argues. But who wants to hear about environmental issues? No one, especially not the consumer. Take e-commerce — today everyone is mesmerised by its evolution. But how many know that it has become the single-biggest polluter in fashion? The very logistics of e-commerce impose that every item, even the smallest, be individually wrapped in a plastic bag. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging accounted for 30 per cent — or 75.2 million tons — of total solid waste generated in the US in 2012.

“It’s not about fighting brands, it’s about empowering the people. Products have become messengers of the era we live in,” Gutsch comments. Brands such as Stella McCartney, Noir, Brazilian sneaker company Veja, Edun and Liya Kebede’s Lem Lem have opened the way to sustainable clothes. Following this principle, fashion giants are starting to break ground with recycling initiatives: fast-fashion chains such as H&M, Britain’s Marks & Spencer and Italy’s Calzedonia are collecting used items in their stores in order to recycle them.

“We can only change something if we establish a new standard; it’s in the hands of the creative communities to make a change. It’s not the consumer’s fault,” says Gutsch. “The only way to move forward, in the future, would be to produce on demand.”

Another solution to protect the future of our consumer society would evidently be to consume less, to create products with a life expectancy, products that disintegrate or mimic nature.

At a recent Parley for the Oceans talk, NASA astronaut Leland Melvin said: “Look, we went to the Moon, we made it possible… to fly men into space. Why can’t we find a solution to a problem that exists here, now, that we created?”

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SLIDESHOW: Cyrill Gutsch: “How can we redesign plastic to make it harmless? How can we turn the problem into an opportunity? By creating a premium product out of it.”

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Photo credit: Jason Childs

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Photo credit: Ralph Wuerth

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Photo credit: Ralph Wuerth

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Photo credit: Zak Noyle

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UN x Parley artwork by Julian Schnabel

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