How Ethical Is KOI Footwear? All You Need To Know
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KOI Footwear has a big presence on social media and in the eco-community. The company claims to be 100% vegan and partners with the climate action program One Tribe to help make a positive environmental impact. So we had to ask: How ethical is KOI Footwear?
KOI Footwear is an ethical company that cares about its workers, animals, and the environment and its commitment to factory auditing, workers’ rights, vegan materials, and sustainability are all transparent. The company has a few unverifiable claims, but seems to be (pro)actively improving overall.
Any information outside the company website was difficult–if not impossible–to find, so this article will cover the topics in which KOI Footwear demonstrates transparency. It is clear that the brand is successful by staying on-trend, but how sustainable is fast-fashion footwear? In the end, we still don’t know.
Overall KOI Footwear Ethics
On the surface, the company appears to be conducting its business in fairly ethical terms. KOI claims to “lead with compassion,” stating its constant mission is to turn itself into a more sustainable and kinder company overall, “because they care.”
The company’s ethics page has all the right components; it acknowledges that customers wanted more transparency. Additionally, KOI states it is currently working to improve sustainability and keep the public informed about it.
This is always a good thing to hear; however, there was little verification for some of the company’s claims. Unfortunately, this lack of verification leaves questions and raises suspicion of how genuine these claims are.
KOI Manufacturing Ethics and Workers’ Rights
KOI’s website openly offers the fact that all of their shoes are made in China and that the company does not privately own a factory. Yet, we were unable to uncover which factories have been contracted. It is stated that factories adhere to safe working conditions and manufacturing processes; again, we could not verify this.
However, it was good to see KOI had an auditing program in place, which these factories are supposedly adhering to.
Amfori BSCI Code of Conduct Audited Factories
The amfori BSCI Code of Conduct provides standards and recommendations designed to improve working conditions throughout the supply chain. It covers issues such as working hours, health and safety assessments, working conditions, child labor, and more, and draws from various international conventions including:
- UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights
- UN Global Compact
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- OECD Guidelines
- Children’s Rights and Business Principles
- International Labour Organization (ILO)
As an endorser of the amfori BSCI Code of Conduct, KOI Footwear has pledged commitment to the Code’s principles and responsibility to honor and respect human rights. The Terms of Implementation are also clear and binding. Also, this obligates factories to participate in audits under the Audit Integrity Programme guidelines to ensure the Code is being upheld.
The auditing process is well-defined and contains a clear (although extensive) communication chain. And from how the literature reads, audits are done by a third-party group, which ensures the integrity of the system and accountability of all involved. Additionally, KOI Footwear can have visibility in what’s happening in their factories and give input to ensure everyone working for them is treated equally and paid fairly.
KOI Business Ethics and Customer Service
Overall, customers rate and review KOI Footwear and its products positively; it has an average of 4 out of 5 stars, and around 70 – 85% of purchases made ended satisfactorily. The reviews prove that this is due to the on-trend and favorable fashion designs as well as the price. However, only around one-third of its customers say they would repurchase the brand.
Indeed, it was the 15 – 30% unsatisfied customers that stood out. Nearly every poor review comes with a complaint of delayed or un-received orders, complications with returns or exchanges, even instances of a lack of refund with claims of fraud. The common theme in all of these complaints is poor customer service, which many call out and state directly.
Many reviews also complained about quality, construction, and comfort. This is certainly a call-back to the “mystery” materials that are used.
To be fair, the company in no way claims loyalty to loving its customers. Sure, they are eager and committed to pleasing the customer in fashion, affordability, and sustainability, and they are committed to showing you that they are committed. So it is a bit unfair to hold this shortcoming against them. But the vernacular they use suggests that the brand would want strong, positive, helpful, passionate employees in customer service representing them; alas, this is not the case.
KOI and Animal Rights: 100% PETA-Approved Vegan
KOI Footwear doesn’t hide the fact that they love animals, and they are very proud of their PETA-Approved label. It states on Koi’s ethics page that:
“Being PETA-approved means that we work closely with our factories on an ongoing basis to ensure that our quest for vegan-friendly footwear is consistently met through rigorous checks and procedures and constant product sampling.”
What’s Wrong With That?
The ethical problem here is that there is no verification that being PETA-approved means that factories are continually being audited. According to the PETA website, to license out the vegan logo, all one must do is fill out a questionnaire application and pay a fee. Companies are left to the honor system in their application, wherein only a yes/no question about using vegan materials is asked as a qualifying determiner.
Nowhere on PETA’s website nor the application is there a statement requiring (or even mentioning the possibility of) “rigorous checks and procedures” to assure these claims are true or remain true. A small number of companies listed, including H&M, have already been caught for greenwashing, which implies one can obtain this label under pretenses.
Most companies with a PETA-approved vegan label are legit, and they use it to communicate this benefit to customers easily. And it seems like KOI is legitimately vegan as well. However, it is unethical to imply there is accountability for this when there isn’t. But this then leads us to our next point: materials.
What Materials Are Used To Make KOI Footwear?
At best, the categories for materials found for KOI footwear include “cotton,” “imitation leather,” and “textile.” We know that the materials are vegan, but are they sustainable? And what is textile? Polyester? Rylon? PVC? There is no information to be found on specifics, simply the statement that they use “ethically sourced and vegan-friendly materials.”
KOI and Environmental Sustainability
Recycled and Recyclable Packaging
KOI is doing its part to have sustainable, eco-friendly packaging. The brand uses recycled cardboard for all its boxes, which are still 100% recyclable. Beyond that, they have recently overhauled the inside packaging of the box, swapping out polystyrene and plastic bags for bags and stuffing made from recycled paper instead.
But they aren’t stopping there! Sending shoes out for delivery requires a durable, tough plastic as an outer bag to keep shoes protected during shipment. The bags currently being used are likely destined to end up in landfills or the sea, so the company says they are working with their packaging partners to find a solution. The goal is to have these outer bags made from recyclable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic waste.
KOI has created a program to donate your old shoes (and clothes) as conveniently as possible called Soles4Souls. Not only does this help to cut down on annual textile waste in landfills, but it also positively impacts the lives of others. For example, S4S has acted like second-wave responders, providing clothing and footwear for natural disaster victims.
KOI Footwear knows how to stay on-trend, both in fashion design and consumer concerns of sustainable business. The brand demonstrates its awareness by openly offering information on its website, but the lack of verification is something to be desired. Overall, KOI Footwear seems to be an ethical company concerned about its impact on the environment and the lives of its workers.
- One Tribe Global: Koi Footwear
- Koi Footwear: Ethics
- Koi Footwear: Soles 4 Souls
- PETA: Apply to Use the ‘Peta-Approved Vegan’ Label
- Zalando: Koi Footwear Catalogue
- amfori: amfori BSCI Code of Conduct
- amfori: Terms of Implementation for BSCI Participants
- amfori: Audit Integrity Programme
- Britain Reviews: Koi Footwear – Customer Reviews, Ratings, and Opinions
- Trust Pilot: Koi Footwear Reviews