The family behind Timberland launches a sustainable competitor

On the floor, Erem’s newly launched mountain climbing boot has a comparable look to the long-lasting Timberland boot. And any similarities between the 2 make sense, as a result of each firms had been based by the Swartz family, who’ve been within the enterprise for 4 generations.

However look nearer, and each part of Erem’s boot is totally different, fastidiously chosen to biodegrade when the boot has reached the tip of its life.

[Photo: Erem]

Nathan Swartz based Timberland in 1952 and helped design the model’s hard-wearing boot, which turned common amongst hikers and development employees alike. Ultimately, Nathan’s grandson Jeff turned CEO of Timberland and in 2011, he offered the corporate to VF Corp.

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[Photo: Erem]

This week, Jeff and his son Noah launched their new firm, Erem. Whereas most footwear available on the market incorporates plastic soles and foam that doesn’t decompose, Erem’s two debut boot types are constructed utilizing recycled rubber, biodegradable foam comprised of corn, and natural cotton. On the finish of the boot’s life, prospects can return it to Erem, which is able to take aside all of the elements to reuse and recycle.

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[Photo: Erem]

Whereas many established footwear firms, from Nike and Timberland to Jimmy Choo, are attempting to revamp their footwear and manufacturing methods to be extra sustainable, Erem is an attention-grabbing experiment in constructing an eco-friendly shoe from the bottom up.

It was 28-year-old Noah who first got here up with the thought for Erem. Like his father and grandfather, Noah had spent his childhood immersed within the shoe enterprise, visiting factories and having dinner-table conversations together with his family about nuances in boot design. However his father offered the family enterprise whereas Noah was attending Columbia College, which left him questioning what he needed to do together with his profession. “Noah was a fourth technology lurking within the wings,” Jeff says. “Generational family companies are unusual, uncommon creatures, and Noah was mad at me in a deep approach. He had a image in his head of taking up the enterprise, however once I offered the corporate, that image disappeared.”

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[Photo: Erem]

After school, Noah labored for a number of manufacturers targeted on sustainability, resembling Past Meat, Fashionable Meadow, and Superpedestrian. He attended Harvard Enterprise Faculty and commenced to plot out his subsequent transfer. Whereas he was there, it turned clear to him that he needed to return to his roots as a boot-maker, however this time with an eco-friendly focus. That’s when he give up his MBA program to launch Erem.

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[Photo: Erem]

Collectively, Jeff and Noah determined to construct a boot designed for desert mountain climbing. It resembles the Timberland boot, with its rugged sole and light-brown suede exterior—however Jeff downplays the resemblance. “Any similarity to a Timberland silhouette is coincidental and pushed by their affect from components of the navy and work boot heritage,” he says.

The objective was to make use of essentially the most sustainable know-how available on the market, creating footwear comprised of eco-friendly supplies which are additionally biodegradable. Whereas recycled plastic could be very common within the style trade, Erem’s staff determined towards it. “All issues being equal, recycled polyester is healthier than virgin [or new] polyester,” Noah says. “However as a result of most shoppers don’t recycle, this plastic will find yourself in a landfill. Our perception was that our duty ought to prolong past the purpose of sale to what occurs on the finish of its life.”

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[Photo: Erem]

However making a efficiency boot out of biodegradable supplies is a complicated proposition. Erem needed to construct its provide chain from scratch fairly than sourcing from mainstream suppliers that service footwear manufacturers. They labored with a producer to create a rubber outsole embedded with a biodegradability enhancer that can permit it to decompose in 7 to 14 years, relying on environmental situations, fairly than the 400 years typical for conventional rubber outsoles. “If you wish to discover threads or rubber which are [biodegradable], you possibly can’t discover it on a drop-down menu with one in every of these suppliers,” Jeff says. “These suppliers are targeted on whether or not there’s a demand for this materials. And for now, there isn’t.”

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[Photo: Erem]

Whereas most footwear is made by laminating layers along with sizzling plastic adhesives, Erem’s boots are largely constructed by stitching layers collectively utilizing linen thread, fairly than polyester thread, an strategy that makes it simpler to take the boot aside for repairs and recycling. Nevertheless, Noah says, it took a very long time for the stitching manufacturing unit to discover ways to use the linen. “The stress settings within the manufacturing unit machines are set to polyester,” he says. “The thread is just 0.03% of our boot, by quantity. However it was essential to us that we use linen.”

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[Photo: Erem]

With this primary assortment, Erem partnered with European producers which are audited to make sure their factories are as eco-friendly as attainable. For R&D, Erem labored with a solar-powered Portuguese manufacturing unit that additionally occurs to be geographically near the outsole, insole, and packaging suppliers, lowering the carbon footprint from delivery. Erem’s Italian tannery makes use of plant-based tanning, fairly than chrome tanning, which is extra broadly used however extra chemical-intensive.

Erem invitations prospects to ship boots in for restore and, finally, to request a free return label to ship of their outdated boots fairly than throwing them away. The plan is to gather these outdated footwear and rip them aside into their part supplies to recycle the rubber, metals, and extra. However the model doesn’t anticipate all prospects to make an effort to take action. If the footwear do find yourself within the trash, the supplies will finally decompose.

Jeff says it has been fascinating to construct Erem after spending his whole life inside Timberland. He watched his grandfather arrange Timberland’s provide chain within the ’60s and ’70s, then noticed as the corporate grew into a multinational company. As CEO of Timberland, he labored on making an attempt to make the enterprise as sustainable as attainable, however says it’s a lot more durable to change an current provide chain than to construct a new one from scratch. “We went to those factories and needed to do all the pieces in a different way,” he says. “There’s not a single piece of this boot that wasn’t new to our provide chain. There’s no rocket science right here, however for an trade that’s primed for value financial savings, it appeared radical.”