Published 2 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
The Swiss company now has the funds to take its sustainability ethos to the next level — with the launch of a potentially game-changing, truly circular shoe and long-awaited subscription service.
In the highly competitive running market, there are few brands moving as fast
(and grabbing as much market share) as Switzerland-based On.
Founded in 2010, On quickly became a cult favorite athletic footwear and apparel
brand thanks to its patented CloudTec cushioning
technology and a range of
other sustainability efforts literally woven into the fabric of its gear.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the brand’s Q3 financial results reported the best
month in the company’s history — with net sales up 77 percent through the first
nine months of 2021, and DTC sales up a staggering 93 percent. The brand
estimates roughly 20 million
wear its products.
With the momentum from a September 2021 IPO in tow, On’s early commitment to
building a more planet-positive pair of shoes seems to be paying dividends at a
time when consumer demand for those types of products, especially in footwear,
has never been greater.
“Going public didn’t change our sustainability efforts much,” Francois-Xavier
Dosne, On’s Head of Innovation Business Strategy, told Sustainable
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Laurent Vandepaer, On’s Sustainability Performance Lead, speaks of ESG with
a sort of forward-looking mindset that feels like one of a much larger apparel
“When talking about ‘governance,’ it’s about transparency — the impact of
products and where we can reuse them,” he says.
It’s what makes On’s Cyclon
subscription service so compelling. On made a sizable bet that consumers would
be interested in using a running shoe for a certain amount of time, wearing it
out, then exchanging it for something new. Cyclon allows On customers can do
just that — if they can just be patient: While On opened the service to
customers in early 2020, its first chance to fulfill on it arrives this summer —
in the form of the fully recyclable
shoe, made from one material family — but Dosne says they already have a waiting
customer base “in the five figures.”
Apparently, retailers are also ready to buy into Cyclon. According to Dosne,
the day On announced the program, 20 “top retailers” called the company asking
how they could be a part of what could be the first viable path to sell something truly circular.
Dosne says that one of the key objectives of On’s capital raise through the IPO
is to focus on a range of impact-related projects.
“Every second or third project at On is sustainability-related,” he says. “It’s
pervasive throughout the company.”
Case in point: the development of
— a technology developed with partners
LanzaTech that will yield EVA
foam soles made from greenhouse gas emissions literally pulled out of the air.
In short, the technology takes carbon emissions produced from an industrial
source, ferments those gases into ethanol, dehydrates the ethanol into a usable
pellet, then forms those pellets into the foam material.
On is hoping to launch the material, which would replace existing foams on
almost all of the company’s shoes, later this year.
What seems to be propelling On even further is a commitment to understanding and
advancing circularity that long predates current conversations about making it
happen at a larger level.
“The interesting thing here is not just circularity, but the why behind it,”
says Nils Arne Altrogge, On’s Innovation Technology Lead. “At the end of the
day, circularity is a tool to learn and make (change) happen.”
Altrogge says it’s just as much about assigning value to a material — not just
as a finished product, but to the textile itself — as a way of explaining the
concept. Dosne adds that there are significant gaps in understanding
circularity as a total
and that even extends to On’s internal team, where the sustainability team has
had to continue to educate employees about circular concepts.
There are, of course, conversations with the
about durability and longevity, wearing something twice as long as you normally
would, etc — but the On team thinks its uniquely positioned to have a leading
voice in this emerging discussion.
“We have a platform now, but we have to brainstorm to create the right impact,”
Published Feb 23, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Geoff is a freelance journalist and copywriter focused on making the world a better place through compelling copy. He covers everything from apparel to travel while helping brands worldwide craft their messaging. In addition to Sustainable Brands, he's currently a contributor at Penta, AskMen.com, Field Mag and many others. You can check out more of his work at geoffnudelman.com.