Clothing company rag & bone sells denim, casual-wear, footwear, and accessories. Doing things the right way and not the easy way is one of their founding mottos, but there is room for improvement when it comes to sustainability. These sneakers are marked as a sustainable option on online shopping websites like Revolve, and while their use of recycled materials in their production of this sneaker is a strength, rag & bone is not fully transparent when it comes to the sourcing of all their materials and labor force. With this lack of information, it is hard to come to a solid conclusion on whether I would recommend this shoe to a consumer, but I appreciate that the company works to reduce textile waste and create clothes that are long-lasting.
The sneakers are made from an array of different materials. The trims are 100% calf leather and calf suede, and the outsole is rubber. There is some back and forth when it comes to the sustainability of leather. Some argue that as long as there is a meat industry it would be wasteful for the by-product hides to end up in landfills. Also, leather can withstand a lot and last for decades. The counter argument, however, is that the term “by-product” is really just a convenient excuse for the leather industry to use. The tanning of leather can also be a real issue. Many times chemicals, like a chromium salt bath, are used. When the tanning process is over the remaining toxins can end up in waterways. Unfortunately, rag & bone does not offer information on their site about their leather sourcing or tanning process for these shoes. Looking at other leather products on their online store, some were described as using vegetable tanned leather, and some were not. The shoe lining is made from cotton, while the upper part is 100% recycled polyester. The recycled material is certified by the Global Recycle Standard, the Recycled Claim Standard, and Cradle to Cradle. Compared to producing virgin polyester from petroleum, recycling the plastic reduces greenhouse gas emissions and uses less water. However, if someone were to discard these shoes in the trash, that plastic would still be ending up in our waters or landfills.
There are not too many details given on how the shoes get made, but it would involve calf leather and suede production, cotton production, rubber production, recycled polyester production, and assembly. Their recycled polyester is recycled yarn made from post-consumer plastic bottles. However, there is little information given about the other materials sourcing, so general information and industry practices have to be considered. Typically, suede production can end up emitting large amounts of carbon emissions that harm our ecosystems. Tending to the cattle takes up lots of water, land, and food. Also, the animals have to be killed to make the product. rag & bone might benefit from checking out vegan leather options like Muskin, a suede-like material made from mushrooms! Regarding the shoe’s cotton, it isn't advertised as organic, so pesticides and other chemicals are likely involved in the growth of the crop. Rubber production has the potential to release toxic emissions into our atmosphere, but with no further information from rag & bone, it is hard to know their production impact.
rag & bone was founded in 2002 by Marcus Wainwright and Nathan Bogle. One of the brand's main values is producing timeless pieces, clothes that you won't have to discard and replace when trends change. The Denim Recycling Project is also a cool initiative that has come from the company. Denim from any brand can be dropped off at a rag & bone store to be recycled. The person is then given 20% off their denim purchase at the store. The repurposed cotton fibers are then used as insulation for building efforts across the country. There is though, a lack of information on details about the labor force involved in making the Retro Runner sneakers. While rag & bone highlights that their jeans are made in America, the sneakers are assembled in Indonesia, with no further details about the working conditions on their company site. It is interesting to note that in 2020, the labor laws in Indonesia were relaxed, with the Omnibus bill on Job Creation actually sparking riots among workers. Two things the bill did were allow longer work hours and cut mandatory paid leave. Besides the manual assembly of the sneaker, there is also a lack of information on the working conditions of the people producing the cotton, rubber, and suede. While rag & bone has taken a step towards greater sustainability with their usage of recycled materials, (as well as other projects like their denim recycling initiative) they could do better with this sneaker!