THE SUSTAINABILITY OF UNDERGROUND
As an independent brand and company, we are fortunate to be able to make choices that impact the environment without solely referencing our profit margin. With an attitude that supports the outsiders and outcasts it is an easy step for Underground to take, to embrace the need for change in the way business is conducted and how products are manufactured.
Our footprint as a brand may be quite small, but step by step, we are making the important changes, believing simply that if we do our part, then we can help to improve the environment, working conditions and at the same time improve our product.
This is what we are already doing to become a sustainable brand….
The Raw Materials
LEATHER – Leather is biodegradable and the preferred choice of uppers on footwear for many of our customers. Traceability of leather has not yet been developed on a mass scale, but we are confining our purchases only to known tanneries and suppliers within Europe.
LEATHER ALTERNATIVES – We have been gradually introducing alternatives to leather for our footwear products. We have been careful to select materials that are not only non-leather, and therefore suited to our Vegan customers, but also materials that are environmentally friendly. We have introduced a non-leather option in all of our core footwear styles and have also been developing footwear that uses the new plant-based options that are being introduced including Pinatex, a material that is produced from pineapple leaf waste and woven into an upper material that performs, feels and breathes like leather.
SOLES – Our soles are being produced from either natural rubber from ethical sources or synthetic materials that have been produced using recycled PVC.
We build shoes that last. We are proud of the quality of our product and that the footwear we sell has a lifespan of many years. Using reliable manufacturers, with whom we have worked many years and have agreed practices and prices, we have been able to ensure that the quality is consistent and high. We realise that with a long life span we may be depriving ourselves of sales as the need for a replacement pair is diminished, but, on the contrary, we know that our customers are buying a quality product that will afford them many years of wear and that will encourage them to refer our brand to other customers. Our sales will benefit as a result, and we imagine that the sales of inferior quality products from other brands will diminish. We truly prefer quality over quantity.
We can produce our footwear in small batch quantities. Although we are unable gain the advantage of the economies of scale of mass-production we can ensure that the sell through on our products remains high and avoid the unnecessary “clearance sales“ that inevitably result in products being bought wantonly without real need or desire. We strive to use materials and manufacturing resource to produce footwear that is required.
Our low volume production is also supported by our custom-made order service. We have used our long-term relationship with our manufacturers to build up trust and a cooperative spirit that enables to offer customers the option to select special colours or materials to produce one pair that is custom made for them.
Many of our styles have been in production for nearly 40 years. Having a range of core products is something we are very proud of. The design of them is timeless and they contribute hugely to our sustainability. There are no development and tooling requirements, there are no surplus materials at the end of the season and even our retail stockists benefit by knowing that with a core trans-seasonal product they do not need to mark down the stock in a sale.
Where we manufacture
We currently manufacture all our footwear in the UK and Portugal. We work with manufacturers that have been producing Underground over many years. We have a close relationship with our factory that enables us to have stable production, quality and price. There is no necessity to continually source from new factories, a process that will add additional use of materials and resource, only to produce the same footwear. Sustainability requires cooperation from all partners.
Supporting sustainable manufacturers
We only work with manufacturers that have small or medium size production. They are more likely to be independent owner managed business that, too, have the independence to make business decisions not solely based on short term profit. They understand that our business has special requirements and are prepared to support low volume manufacture.
Supporting local manufacture
We believe in supporting local business and manufacture. Transport requirements are hugely reduced, travel for factory visits is minimised and we can monitor the working conditions of the those producing our footwear. The support for local manufacture also ensures that we help retain artisanal skills and provide opportunities for new entrants to the manufacturing industry.
The Shoe Box
We produce our shoebox from recycled board. We use a draw type box that can be re-purposed as a storage box.
The footwear is wrapped in tissue that is produced using recycled paper.
We are currently phasing out the labels that are attached to the shoes. Labelling is one of the most wasteful uses of materials. The labels are invariably torn off once the footwear is tried on and then discarded. We are looking to brand our products with labels that have a secondary purpose so that they may be repurposed.
OUR BRAND ETHICS & MESSAGE
The brand can play a part in encouraging customers to think about the environment and sustainability. Our brand must have a purpose and a message for the customer. In summary:
As an independent brand we can make choices that larger brands may not have the freedom to make.
We can make local, make in small batches, avoid waste and help retain artisanal skills.
We can select how and where we carry out our photo shoots. Where possible we shoot locally, shooting on location at local businesses and reducing travel.
We can source components and trims from local family owned businesses and encourage others to do the same.
We highlight that our product has a long-life span and that a customer might only ever need to buy one pair of our shoes.
We understand that our contribution may be small, but we subscribe to the idea that “everyone should play their part.“