Interview with Cyrill Gutsch from Parley for the Ocean | Grailify
Interview with Cyrill Gutsch from Parley for the Ocean

Interview with Cyrill Gutsch from Parley for the Ocean

You work with plastic to raise awareness of the problem associated with it. Why don't you work with a completely different material?
It's easy to feel disconnected from the realities of many environmental threats we face. But it's much harder to ignore a problem that's right in front of you. We chose to focus on plastic pollution because it is a tangible threat that affects everyone in one way or another on a daily basis. Plastic consumption and production are increasing rapidly, but the action, education and innovation we need to minimize and prevent waste is lagging behind.

What are the main problems associated with plastic?
Plastic never biodegrades; every piece ever produced is still out there in some form, and much of it shows up as toxic plastic smog in our lifeblood, the oceans, the ecosystem behind every other breath we take.

The latest Parley x adidas Running Ultraboost is made from Primeknit, which is 95% Parley Ocean Plastic.
What is the concept behind using upcycled plastic in shoes?
A product can be the most efficient messenger for a cause. A product made from the very problem we are fighting to solve only reinforces the message. We all have a responsibility to avoid plastic whenever we can. But that alone is not enough to solve the problem that is already in the bellies of sea creatures and polluting even the deepest ocean trenches. We need to take plastic out of circulation and reinvent the material itself. To do that, we need a creative, positive and realistic approach to solving the problem - one that motivates and unites people rather than discourages them. We've found our answer in the Parley AIR (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) strategy and in an eco-innovative material made from upcycled ocean waste: Parley Ocean Plastic.

Each Parley x adidas Running Ultraboost reuses about 11 plastic bottles.
You called plastic a design flaw. If that's so, sneakers must be mankind's biggest mistake ...
Sneakers are not the problem, but the material and the system that produces them. Behind every major threat to our environment is an outdated business model, a way of thinking and producing that is overdue for an update. This seemingly perfect, smooth, versatile material has deceived us. About 60 years ago, we started using plastic everywhere. It didn't take long for us to become addicted to plastic. At the same time, brands disconnected from their supply chains. Now we're seeing the consequences.

The Futurecraft Biosteel is made of fully biodegradable fabric that mimics natural silk.
And you think you have a solution?
If we can solve the problem of plastic, that superstar of design failure, we can solve anything. adidas performance products made from Parley Ocean Plastic, including jerseys for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich soccer clubs, were just the beginning. Our material is a viable replacement for virgin plastic and an invitation for everyone to take action and make their own impact by adopting Parley AIR - the strategy that can end plastic pollution in the oceans for the long term.
Responsibly made products often come at a higher price. Do you think the consumer of the future will want to pay that price?
Practicality is the new luxury. People will always want nice things - be they experiences, services or products - and they want those things along with the assurance that they're not supporting some ugly, invisible cost. According to a 2015 Neilsen report, 66% of shoppers are willing to pay more for products that support environmental and social responsibility. So the demand is there. Protecting the planet, and the oceans in particular, is not only the right thing to do, it's good business.

This concept shoe from 2015 was 3D printed and never released. The goal was to show how the industry can rethink design and curb plastic pollution in the oceans.
Let's talk about your collaboration with adidas, which is much more far-reaching than many people realize. What are you working on with adidas beyond the amazing concept shoe or Ultraboosts we've seen?
adidas is fully committed to our shared mission to end plastic pollution in the oceans and has already taken several steps to embed Parley AIR into the company culture. In addition to reviewing its supply chain with the goal of phasing out the use of virgin plastic and launching its first performance products made from Parley Ocean Plastic, adidas has stopped using plastic bags in its retail stores and removed single-use plastic from its corporate headquarters. The company has banned the use of microbeads in licensed personal care products and is training and empowering its employees to be leaders and ambassadors for ocean conservation.

The Ultraboost Parley, Parley x Ultraboost and Ultraboost Uncaged Parley will be available in stores and online starting May 19.
That's amazing progress on a global scale. How did the conversation with adidas come about in the first place?
I had already worked with adidas for several years as a consultant and knew they would be the perfect partner for this. It took us two years to find a way to work together. We looked at this partnership from all angles, as we both wanted to create something unique that could truly represent the change we wanted to bring to the industry. It's great that adidas is both structured and flexible, but also has the confidence to let us be demanding, even infuriating.
Futurecraft Biosteel fiber is all-natural and was developed by German biotech company AMSilk. It was developed to explore the use of Biosteel fibers in performance products.
It is not only important to consume the right things, but also to consume less. Is it even possible to convey such a statement?
The Parley AIR strategy has a logical order. The first pillar - avoid - is a reasonable starting point. We cannot continue to consume as much and, above all, throw away as much as we do now. We should avoid the unnecessary and buy products that last. Consuming less and smarter is not detrimental to your business strategy. In fact, the opposite is true. Consumers increasingly value quality over quantity. They also value and expect transparency and authenticity. Brands should be prepared to stay ahead of the curve and help shape this new industry landscape. Change is the only constant.

What's the last big thing you've accomplished that you're proud of?
Seeing Real Madrid and Bayern Munich wear Parley Ocean Plastic on the pitch to support the movement. That was like a dream scenario come true. It was surreal.

Parley for the Oceans founder Cyrill Gutsch, left, experiences Doug Aitken's underwater art installation "Pavilions" while diving on Catalina Island. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/For The New York Times
What's next?
With Doug Aitken x Parley Underwater Pavilions, we've launched the Parley Deep Space Program. The idea is to unite the ocean, space and creative communities in collaborations that enhance opportunities to explore and protect the undiscovered realm of our planet. The greatest age of exploration is still ahead of us - or below us and beneath the surface. We want people to keep their heads under water.
We thank you for talking with us.

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