HOKA One One is an athletic shoe company that originated in France in 2009. From social media exposure on Tiktok and Instagram to personal conversations with family and friends, HOKA shoes have become an increasingly hot topic in popular culture. Their products are not only known for being one of the best running shoes (that are also quite fashionable), but they have also received a seal of acceptance from The American Podiatric Medical Association for being found beneficial to foot health. Specifically, the Women’s Bondi 7 Hoka shoes are bought by consumers of all ages for running, walking, or lifestyle wear.
Although HOKA gets points from a podiatrist and athletic standpoint, where do they stand ethically and environmentally? The data provided by HOKA’s parent company, Deckers, is only on Tier 1 and Tier emissions. A flow diagram in their report includes Tier 0, Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3+. With the acknowledgment of more tiers within their supply chain, Deckers is intentionally not evaluating the social and environmental impact of their brands as a whole.
Deckers needs to account for their Tier 3+ impact as part of their supply chain for HOKA One. Other companies have proved this tier to be one of the most unethical and environmentally degrading sources of emissions.
The HOKA One One Women’s Bondi 7 is described to have open-engineered mesh construction for breathable comfort, memory foam, flexible ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) midsole, and a rubber outsole. Although HOKA states that they strive to maximize the amount of preferred materials in their productS, their most promising environmentally friendly material, Sugarcane EVA, is only used in 0.26% of production. EVA is a soft, flexible plastic that is the top material used by HOKA. If implemented at a larger scale, Sugarcane EVA is a great sustainable alternative that could reduce HOKA’s footprint significantly. It is made from swift-growing, rainwater-fed, renewable sugarcane where bio-based ethanol is extracted and converted into ethylene. This provides a more sustainable alternative to petroleum-based, non-renewable materials that are used to make conventional EVA. In addition, sugarcane captures CO2 from the atmosphere, so for every pound of ethanol/ethylene derived from sugarcane, 1.6 lbs of CO2 is sequestered.
Another key material that HOKA uses is polyester. HOKA’s/Deckers’ Corporate Responsibility Report states that HOKA has repurposed over 21.8 million PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a form of polyester) water bottles and over 457,000 lbs of post-industrial polyester fiber and textile scrap. Compared to using conventional polyester fibers, Deckers’ report stated that they saved over 1.9 million lbs of CO2 eq. emissions, 710 million liters of water, and 19 million MJ of energy. These seemingly positive statistics are, unfortunately, accompanied by many concerning statistics. The report refers to recycled polyester as raw recycled polyester fiber and compares it to raw virgin polyester fiber which can be misleading and confusing to consumers. Deckers needs to clarify the language they use to describe their materials. With this grey area in mind, Deckers’ report additionally states that HOKA’s fiber usage breakdown is 73% polyester and 6% recycled polyester. HOKA needs to significantly increase their use of recyclable materials.
HOKA is making positive strides in other aspects of their company. For instance, their footwear packaging uses only 1.3% plastic. In FY21, HOKA footwear used 117,355 lbs of responsibly-sourced cotton fibers. When comparing the impact of conventional cotton raw fiber usage to the same usage of responsibly-sourced cotton fibers, approximately 196,600 lbs of CO2 eq. emissions are prevented, 1.11 billion liters of water is saved, and 745,019 MJ of energy is retained. All of the leathers used in HOKA footwear products are sourced from Leather Working Group (LWG)-certified tanneries, which maintain protocols promoting sustainable and appropriate environmental business practices within the leather industry.
The Deckers 2021 Corporate Responsibility Report only includes information on Tier 1 and 2, actively excluding Tier 0 and Tier 3+ from assessments and goal implementations. Tier 0 includes consumer use and end-of-life waste. Tier 1 refers to the product manufacturing (assembly) of finished goods at footwear factories and Tier 2 refers to the raw material (such as leather from tanneries) manufacturing of finished goods provided by suppliers. Tier 3+ includes raw material extraction, which has a great environmental and social impact, however, neither Deckers nor HOKA report emissions for this category. They only refer to Tier 1 and 2 when evaluating company assessments and goals. Specifically, the Corporate Responsibility Report includes goals such as increasing the number of ‘Monitored’ Tier 1 and Tier 2 partners by 2027. This year’s update monitored the waste among 14 Tier 1 partners, 8 Tier 2 bottom suppliers, and 9 Tier 2 tanneries and saw increases in emissions per pair.
In addition, Deckers’ Corporate Responsibility Report describes three different scopes of their assessment. Scope 1 includes the emissions from owned or controlled sources; Scope 2 includes market-based emissions from leased offices, distribution centers, and some retail stores; and Scope 3 includes all other emissions which are not clearly defined, but are stated to account for over 99% of their overall footprint. This pattern of focusing on Scopes and Tiers that have the least impact is prominent amongst companies who greenwash.
At the same time, HOKA does seem to be making some improvements on a smaller scale. The Deckers Corporate Responsibility Report does state that HOKA is on track to meet their goal of reducing textile waste in Tier 2 by 30%, as they have already reduced it by 15.62% per pair from 2019. With current reductions of 30.55%, HOKA does appear to be on track to reduce its water waste by 60% by 2030.
With this data in mind, it is important to note that Deckers uses an ethical supply chain (ESC) team within the company to assess the environmental and social impact of their brands. Deckers needs to have an independent auditor assess their supply chain; this is the only way an unbiased report can be provided that ensures accountability. In doing this, Deckers can inform its customers, in a transparent way, as to the operations of their brands, including on areas for improvement, for both the people and the planet.
Under Deckers, HOKA follows their Ethical Supply Chain Supplier Code of Conduct. This code of conduct includes a zero-tolerance for forced labor and child labor. It specifically states that business partners shall not use forced labor whether in the form of slavery, prison labor, indentured labor, bonded labor, or human trafficking. The code of conduct also states that business partners will pay worker wages and benefits that meet applicable laws, including benefits such as holidays, leaves, and overtime pay. Deckers also requires that approved suppliers, factory-sourced suppliers, licensees, and agents do not source from countries or locations that support forced labor.
To ensure these requirements are met, Deckers states that 100% of their Tier 1 partners and a majority of their Tier 2 suppliers are audited by Deckers on an annual basis. 92.3% of those monitored received champion or excellent ratings. This data seems to contradict the several non-compliant areas within the company found by the ESC team. These areas include excessive overtime, insufficient benefits, insufficient social insurance, improper machine safety management, and improper exit doors. For this reason, it is important that Deckers has independent auditors conduct annual assessments on the company, especially Tier 3+ which has been neglected from evaluation.
A positive aspect of Deckers’ Corporate Responsibility Report that I have not seen anywhere else is that they explicitly listed most if not all of their Tier 1 partner and Tier 2 supplier facilities from 2020. It includes the country, factory code, address, number of workers (female and male), trade union status, and product type. This is a step in the right direction.