Rothy's Furthers Commitment to Sustainability With Cardboard-Free Returns Program
Rothy's, a San Francisco-based direct-to-consumer footwear brand founded in 2012, is creating and selling shoes that are made from 100 percent recycled plastic water bottles and post-consumer recycled materials. A commitment to environmental sustainability is core to the brand's mission. Taking that commitment one step further, Rothy's recently became one of the first brands to partner with Happy Returns, a provider of return and logistics solutions for retailers, and more specifically, is participating in the service provider's new cardboard-free returns program.
Approximately 165 billion packages are shipped in the U.S. each year, consuming nearly 1 billion trees annually. As e-commerce continues to grow at nearly 15 percent a year, so will the environmental impact. Rothy's, in partnership with Happy Returns, is addressing this growing environmental problem while offering its customers easier ways to manage product returns.
In an exclusive interview with Total Retail, Heather Howard, vice president of people and operations at Rothy's, discussed the brand's core values and why it's rolling out a cardboard-free returns program.
Total Retail: Can you please tell us about Rothy's and its mission?
Heather Howard: At Rothy’s, we create chic, lasting, endlessly wearable products with as little environmental impact as possible. Redefining expectations of comfort, style and sustainability, we transform plastic water bottles into beautiful shoes using a proprietary 3D knitting process. To date, we’ve repurposed nearly 40 million bottles that were once destined for landfills. A core part of our mission, we take a whole brand approach to sustainability. From our materials to our production to the way we treat our people, we consider sustainability every step of the way.
TR: When did Rothy's begin working with Happy Returns? What made the company attractive to Rothy's?
HH: We began working with Happy Returns in 2018. We’ve always been proud to offer a seamless returns experience for our customers — Rothy’s shoebox functions as a shipping container, resealing for returns and exchanges — and our partnership with Happy Returns made the process easier than ever. We love that our customer can pop into the hundreds of return bars around the country without having to go to the post office, processing returns and exchanges on the spot. Happy Returns also refurbishes Rothy’s returned shoes and then ships them back to our distribution centers. By holiday 2019, Happy Returns will be sending our refurbished goods back in reusable cartons, cutting out all cardboard waste of master cartons.
TR: Can you tell us a little bit more about how Happy Returns’ cardboard-free returns program works?
HH: Happy Returns has developed a reusable tote to pick up and ship product from its return bars and warehouses. Rather than shipping and recycling cardboard boxes, the new totes (like Rothy’s, made from recycled plastic) can be used again and again. This dramatically cuts back in recycling or discarding of cardboard boxes. Aligning with Rothy’s core ethos, we’re proud to be one of Happy Returns inaugural partners on this fantastic initiative.
TR: Why is Rothy's working with Happy Returns on this initiative? How does it dovetail with the company's mission?
HH: Box-free returns align beautifully with Rothy’s mission. We’re constantly examining how we can reduce waste, and are proud to partner with fellow companies that prioritize the same goals. Happy Returns going cardboard-free provides our customers another way in which to further participate in planet-friendly practices with our brand.
TR: Can you tell us about any additional programs you're working on at Rothy's that address sustainability?
HH: We think about sustainability in five major ways: materials, production, inventory, fulfillment and people. We believe that women are looking for beautiful, comfortable shoes that are made consciously, and we firmly believe that you shouldn't have to sacrifice style in order to wear a shoe that's made responsibly.
- Materials: Rothy’s transforms post-consumer plastic into soft yarns to 3D knit our uppers, helping to ensure there's almost no material left over. We then pair the upper with a recycled foam insole and recycled rubber outsole, resulting in a beautiful, durable, machine-washable shoe — with essentially zero waste along the way.
- Production: We take a zero-waste approach to production, knitting to shape and recycling excess material. On average in shoe production, 30 percent to 40 percent of materials are left behind on the factory floor and end up in a landfill. We combat this by knitting our uppers entirely to shape, leaving less than 5 percent of waste behind.
- Inventory: Owning and operating our own workshop and factory ensures we never overproduce excess inventory. We make informed bets on merchandise and produce to demand. Our customers expect that we will continue to release products on a regular monthly cadence. What they also know is that we don't want to overproduce anything, so that drives customer demand.
- Fulfillment: Rather than shipping a box within a box, Rothy’s shoe boxes are the vehicle for both shipping and returns. Our shoe boxes are vegan, biodegradable, and made from post-consumer recycled materials. Both the cards and the box are 100 percent recyclable, and the box is resealable so no tape is needed during the returns process. We offset our carbon emissions by partnering with The Envira Amazonian Project, a payment system for ecosystem services forest conservation, protecting nearly 500,00 acres of tropical rainforest.
- People: Sustainability is about more than product and shipments; it’s also about people. At Rothy’s, we’re committed to fostering a happy, healthy culture where our employees can thrive.