One Way to Become More Sustainable? Invest in New Materials.

Luxury sneaker brand Golden Goose has built a billion-dollar business selling distressed and decorative leather trainers for $500 a pair. But its latest investment is focused on a pivot to sustainability.

The company is partnering with Coronet, a Milan-based producer of synthetic and plant-based leather alternatives in a million-dollar bet on developing new materials.

On April 22, the two companies opened a shared “innovation centre” in Erba, in the Italian province of Como, with Golden Goose investing €1.2 million (about $1.3 million) for 40 percent ownership and Coronet owning the remaining 60 percent stake and investing €1.8 million in production facilities and staff.

The outcomes of the partnership will be deliberately slow and iterative, “a territory to test … innovations,” said Golden Goose chief executive Silvio Campara. The aim is to develop lower-impact materials and manufacturing processes, with a goal to release at least one new form of innovation or product annually on Earth Day.

The move is the latest sign of luxury’s growing interest in innovative new materials that can bolster brands’ sustainability credentials. Companies including Ralph Lauren, Hermès and Gucci are experimenting with investments and partnerships designed to fuel innovation and ensure first or exclusive access to new materials.

The pandemic and ongoing supply chain disruptions have also helped fuel interest in closer partnerships with manufacturers to both secure supply and meet growing demand for transparent and traceable value chains.

With its new partnership, Golden Goose aims to merge Coronet’s manufacturing know-how with its customer engagement and marketing. The goal is to build a business around branded material innovations.

The partnership’s initial focus will be Yatay B, a plant-based leather alternative Coronet has trademarked.

The family-run Milanese manufacturer is already well-established as a synthetic leather producer, supplying companies like Stella McCartney with high-end alternatives to animal skins. But many such materials are largely plastic and Coronet president Umberto de Marco has been looking to introduce more sustainable alternatives.

In 2018, he launched Yatay as a genderless footwear label to test the new material’s consumer appeal and durability. The sneaker brand will now be folded into Golden Goose as a new product line, with the first sneaker available to buy online as of Friday.

To be sure, Yatay B, like many plant-based leather alternatives on the market, still contains some plastic components, which are needed to ensure durability and performance. One focus for the new R&D partnership is increasing the proportion of renewable plant-based content the material contains (currently between 45 and 80 percent, depending on whether the material is being used for the lining or upper of the shoe).

Creating and processing the material still produces 90 percent less carbon dioxide and uses 65 percent less water compared to the resource-intensive process of making traditional leather in a typical Italian tannery, according to a life cycle assessment of the material’s impact commissioned by Coronet.

The first shoe to come out of the partnership, Yatay 1B, will launch Friday on Golden Goose’s website. As with previous Yatay sneakers, each pair has a unique code that gives customers online access to plant and monitor the growth of a tree. A small localised Italian supply chain and the use of recycled cotton, polyester, biodegradable rubber and reduced packaging are also among the shoe’s sustainability credentials.

At €295, Golden Goose’s first Yatay sneaker sells at a lower price point than the brand’s usual offering, which the company said is a transparent reflection of lower productions costs in the absence of painstaking handmade details and its trademark “distressed” look. The minimalist design — aimed at making the materials and innovation the main focus — is also a far cry from the crystal, metallic and sequin details seen on the brand’s other products.

While Campara said Golden Goose has no intention of moving away from conventional leather entirely, it does plan to eventually incorporate more sustainable versions of key materials like glitter into its core product line.

The aim of this, said Campara, is to challenge assumptions that sustainable products have to be pared-back, neutral or minimalist. “We want to stop people thinking that sustainable means basic.”

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