How Sustainable Is Timberland? All You Need to Know

How Sustainable Is Timberland? All You Need to Know

Dennis Kamprad

Read Time:21 Minutes


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Active people like you are taking a serious look at your athletic wear since the apparel industry contributes 10% of global emissions and is the second biggest polluter of our environment. When we talk about rugged outdoor gear, Timberland often comes up. They became known for making sturdy work boots that gained popularity in the 1990s and turned the apparel brand into everyday streetwear. So we had to ask: “How sustainable is Timberland?”

Timberland is generally a sustainable company. They are transparent about their supply chain and usage of responsible materials. Yet, they lack this transparency for their manufacturing. They also need to join more organizations that independently verify their sustainability claims.

Ok, we’ve given you the overall summary of Timberland’s sustainability. But there’s more to it. Let’s have a look at the whole life-cycle of their products, from production to usage to end-of-life and there involvement in sustainable organizations, we need to look at the whole story. Let’s get started with the big picture first.

Here’s How Sustainable Timberland Is

Timberland started as the Abington Shoe Company in Boston, Massachusetts. They then changed hands in 1952 when Nathan Swartz, a shoemaker from Ukraine, bought into the company and soon owned the entire business. 

  • In 1969, Swartz moved the company to Newmarket, New Hampshire. 
  • In 1973, they launched a durable work boot called the Timberland that became so popular the company stopped making other boots. 
  • In 1978, they changed their name to The Timberland Company
  • In the late 1980s, They became publicly traded.
  • In 2011, they were acquired by VF Corporation (VFC). 

Their top-selling product is still Timberland boots, or Timbs as they’ve become known by fans.

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To know if Timberland really is sustainable we need to look at their manufacturing practices and determine if they are effectively reducing their impact on the planet. To do that we need to look at:

  • The information they share,
  • data they report to third parties for external review,
  • their ratings and reviews, and
  • sustainable organizations they belong to. 

And to understand their sustainability, we must assess their products’ life-cycle and the impact of each stage. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method used to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Companies strategically use LCAs to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of Timberland!

The product life-cycle stagesEach stage’s sustainability
ProductionMaterials: Responsibly sourced leather and cotton is important for a bootmaker. Timberland knows this and has been doing it for a while. They also make their own recycled PET plastic for synthetic content.
Manufacturing: It feels like they talk about how many trees they plant to distract us from the manufacturing information they don’t share with us.
Packaging: They’ve been using recycled content for their boot and shoe boxes for nearly 20 years.
UsageLifespan: Timberland boots became popular because they’re durable and last long.
Quality reviews: In recent years there seems to be more complaints about the quality, but Timbs are still considered one of the best made boots out there.
End-of-lifeCircularity: Timberland is farther ahead of other footwear companies when it comes to making circular products that can be easily recycled. They’ve launched TimberLoop to make these products available.
Recycling: Their products include natural materials that are easier to recycle. They say they use recycled content, but they don’t tell us how much.
Waste: If they keep working on it, we may soon be able to call Timberland one of the first fully circular apparel brands.

How Sustainable Is the Production of Timberland Products

To determine if Timberland’s products are sustainable we have to look at how they’re made:

  • Are factory emissions monitored and actions taken to reduce them? 
  • Do they keep material waste at a minimum and recycle what they can? 
  • Do they use non-toxic chemicals that don’t damage the environment? 

Being a part of the Leather Working Group and sustainably sourcing leather is important since Timberland makes a lot of footwear. But, while they tell us they responsibly source materials and use recycled content, they don’t tell us how much they use or provide 3rd party data to prove their manufacturing is eco-friendly. They need to get better at this before we can call their manufacturing practices sustainable.

With Timberland being owned by VF Corporation (VFC), we should be able to turn to the parent company to find out about manufacturing practices. But this is hard since VFC owns 12 sports and outdoor apparel brands and employs a supply chain that spans around 60 countries. Fortunately, VFC maps their supply chain.

  • Timberland was recognized by the 2021 Fashion Transparency Index as one of the top four brands providing better transparency, showing a 66% improvement. This was due to visibility into the supply chain of VFC.
  • A review in the sustainable shopping guide Panaprium praised them for improved transparency and their sustainability goals. The guide gave them a 6 out of 10 score, which they give to brands they say are on track with their climate goals.

But to say Timberland is sustainable we also need to know how they make their products and what goes in them. We need proof that they’re taking actions to reduce their environmental impact.

How Sustainable Are the Materials That Timberland Uses for Their Products

Most athletic and outdoor wear contain cotton, polyester, vinyl, and plastic. Cotton is the only one of these that doesn’t come from fossil fuels. But Timberland is known for making boots and shoes which means they also use a lot of leather. So we need to look at how responsibly they source animal-derived materials (ADMs).

Timberland’s boots are very popular so they use a ton of leather in their manufacturing. So their products less planet-friendly since they use animal-derived materials, even though they responsibly source the leather from suppliers where water and chemical use, emissions, and waste are monitored. And though they say they’re using recycled materials, they need to do better at proving it.

What types of materials does Timberland use for their products?

Timberland says they source organic and recycled materials, which is important to reducing their use of fossil fuels and ADMs since they make a lot of boots and shoes. A recent search of Timberland products found 780 items of footwear, of which 651 are boots. So yeah, they make a lot of boots.

Shop Ethical’s consumer guide gave Timberland a C rating for Praise, Some Criticism. The praise was due to VFC’s efforts to share their supply chain information and plans for future climate actions. The guide gave them credit for not using angora or fur, but marked them down for the amount of leather they use. It gave them praise for being a member of the Leather Working Group (LWG), which monitors and rates chemical, energy, and water use at leather tanneries.

The product rating site Ethical Consumer gave Timberland a 4.5 out of 14. The low score was due to a number of things, including how much leather they use. But, the review noted that 100% of Timberland leather comes from audited tanneries. So it looks like they’re sourcing responsibly when it comes to ADMs.

Are the materials used by Timberland virgin (new) or non-virgin (recycled)?

While Timberland doesn’t provide a list of content in their product descriptions, they do tell us when an item contains recycled materials. The good news is, all of their boots we looked at had a lining made of at least 50% recycled content. But that’s just the lining, and while they say they use recycled materials, including leather, they don’t tell us how much is virgin versus recycled.

It looks like Timberland is invested in using recycled content:

  • They’ve been using their ReBOTL™ technology since 2009 to turn plastic bottles into recycled PET that they use in their products. 
  • In their 2020 sustainability report, they said that by the end of that year 100% of their products would contain at least one recycled, organic, or renewable material. However, they don’t tell us the percentage and we haven’t seen a report since then.

Timberland’s 2020 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report states that 75% of their footwear had at least one major component made with 10% or more recycled, organic, or responsibly sourced content. Yet, this still means that 25% of their footwear might contain more than 90% virgin materials, and even the other 75% could contain more 90% virgin materials too (minus the 10+% for at least that one major component).

Their sustainability page tells us how much plastic and rubber they’ve recycled for use in their footwear, but the link that invites us to “Shop the Collection” currently takes us to a blank product page. 

Is Timberland part of any organizations to “prove” their sustainability?

VF Corporation is a Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) member and say they use SAC’s HIGGS Index tools, developed to help companies assess the sustainability of a product’s lifecycle. However, we couldn’t find verified data that proves VFC or Timberland have reduced their environmental impact with these tools or by any other means.

Timberland talks about being eco-friendly because they use responsibly sourced and recycled materials, but they aren’t doing enough to prove that their manufacturing practices are green. Beyond being a member of SAC and working with LWG suppliers, we couldn’t find which organization they are part of that evaluate or monitor them for sustainable practices.

How Sustainable Are the Manufacturing Processes of Timberland

In the apparel industry, manufacturing is the biggest cause of climate change inducing waste and emissions. From wasted fabric on the cutting floor, to the chemicals used and the carbon output from operations, these all have a huge impact on our environment. So it’s important that apparel companies tell us about their manufacturing and how they reduce its impact. Timberland needs to get better at this and they need to include 3rd party oversight before we can know how good they are.

COSH! reviewed Timberland’s sustainability practices and found issues with their manufacturing. The review pointed out that the bootmaker may audit their supply chain for emissions, waste, and chemical use, but they’re not always using 3rd party evaluations. The review, done in 2020, talks about VFC as a slow moving apparel giant with very aggressive sustainability goals and not enough evidence that they are accomplishing them.

The parent company gives us a clear look at Timberland’s supply chain. This transparency and a history of responsibly sourcing materials, helps Timberland come across as sustainable. But they’ve got work to do. If they can meet their climate goals for the next decade and prove it, we may soon be able to call the popular bootmaker sustainable.

Where does Timberland produce their products?

Parent company VFC maps the location of their direct suppliers, most lower-tier suppliers, and their company owned factories. And they’ve participated in benchmarking studies like this one done by KnowTheChain in 2020-21. VFC has traceability practices and provides a supplier map that shows where Timberland products come from; where the materials were sourced, the location of assembly, and the distribution site. 

The fashion review site Good On You, which reviews brands on how ethical and sustainable they are, rated Timberland with “it’s a start” when it comes to their sustainable practices. The review found the brand has decent animal and environmental practices, but was not so great when it comes to their labor practices.

It may help that, in 2018, VFC signed the Apparel & Footwear Industry Commitment to Responsible Recruitment agreement with over 120 other apparel and footwear companies. The agreement commits them to fair hiring practices that prevent forced labor of migrant workers. 

What does Timberland do to reduce their CO2 emissions?

Timberland received a Best Ethical Consumer rating for carbon management and reporting. The ratings site said VFC’s plans for climate actions and their reporting of greenhouse gas emissions were the reasons for the rating. But the guide’s overall rating of Timberland was a 5 out of 20, noting that they use a large amount of leather and their climate actions are not yet fully developed. 

The 2020 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report from Timberland has an Outdoors section that tells us they planted more trees than any other year, but fell short on their target to use 50% renewable energy by the end of 2020. They say they reached 30%. 

A report by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre tells of VFC’s promise to invest in renewable energy. And VFC released a green building standard for all new facilities and major renovations. The standard requires buildings be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which increases energy efficiency by an average of 25 – 30% at company owned facilities.

What does Timberland do to reduce their water consumption?

In 2020, Timberland reported that over 95% of their leather comes from LWG gold and silver rated tanneries which actively monitor and work to reduce water waste. Cotton is another material they use heavily, and standard growing practices use a lot of water, but organic growing doesn’t. VFC tell us that, at the end of 2020, they were sourcing 96% of their cotton from organic growers. Their goal is 100% by 2025. 

What does Timberland do to reduce their chemical usage?

Leather tanneries are known for using a lot of chemicals, so it’s important that Timberland is sourcing leather responsibly. The good news is, the bootmaker says they only buy from silver and gold rated Leather Working Group (LWG) suppliers, which means their leather supply chain is monitored to make sure they are using chemicals that don’t harm the earth.

The waterproofing they use is also important since harmful chemicals, like PFAs, are commontly used for this. Timberland developed a product called TimberDry that uses 50% recycled plastic to waterproof the lining of their boots, and 100% of the lining for their apparel. They don’t tell us what material is used for the other 50% of waterproofing but they do claim to have eliminated PFAs in their manufacturing. 

Timberland has set a goal to eliminate 100% of planet harming chemicals from their production by 2025. Ethical Consumer gave them credit for these goals and praised VFC’s strategy to monitor and detect unwanted chemicals at the source in order to find healthy replacements.

Which organizations has Timberland joined to showcase their social sustainability?

VFC is listed as a member of BSR, Business for Social Responsibility, a network of businesses committed to acting more responsibly. They support climate actions by government and have signed initiatives like the United Nations’ Fashion Industry Charter on Climate Change, and the Textile Exchange’s Fashion Industry Trade Policy Request commiting to use of environmentally preferred materials.

Timberland has also partnered with organizations like Trees for the Future and American Forests to plant trees and, to date, they’ve planted over 18 million. They also source from Community Cotton that monitors its organic growers and uses an agroforestry model that includes planting trees.

We know that, in addition to planting trees, Timberland sources cotton and leather from suppliers where chemicals, water use, emissions, and waste are monitored. But we also want to know how much packaging they use and if they use recycled materials for it.

How Sustainable Is the Packaging Used for Timberland Products

Nearly half of the plastics made are for product packaging. While some packaging is necessary or is required by law, some of it isn’t. Since plastics are made with fossil fuels, can’t be easily recycled, and take hundreds of years to break down, they are a huge contributor to the carbon footprint and waste caused by product manufacturing.

Their products aren’t the only place Timberland responsibly sources content, they’re also good at using recycled materials in their packaging. They tell us they use 100% recycled packaging, and the parent company has promised to eliminate all plastic packaging by 2025.

How much packaging do they use?

Timberland reports they reduce waste and use sustainable packaging, but that is self-reported. We only have their word and that of their parent company to know how much they reduce packaging use.

How sustainable is their packaging?

In 2006, Timberland said they were committed to using 100% recycled packaging for their footwear boxes, and non-toxic glues and inks for printing. In 2018, this Timberland-sponsored article by EcoCult shared that the company used 100% recycled packaging.

In 2021, VFC announced their target of eliminating plastic packaging from a number of their brands by 2025, including Timberland, and that all packaging will be made from sustainably sourced or recycled materials.

While Timberland says they’re reducing the environmental impact from their packaging, we still need 3rd party verification that they do this. We also want to know how much waste is generated from their products. Are they durable and long-lasting, or do they quickly get thrown out.

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Timberland Products

Having sustainable products also means making them durable so they last. It’s estimated that 64% of garments made end up being disposed of in landfills within a year after purchase. So it’s important to know if Timberland makes their products to last so people keep using them for a long time.

Their reputation for making high-quality footwear can’t be denied. Timberland grew in popularity by making sturdy, long lasting boots. Though they can be perceived as expensive, they’re considered worth the price since customers get at least 4 – 5 years out of them. And, eco-friendly consumers will like the fact that they take back apparel to recycle it.

What Is the Lifespan of Timberland’s Products

The lifespan of a product is the time from when it leaves the manufacturer to the moment it becomes obsolete or cannot be used anymore and is thrown out. To be sustainable, apparel companies need to find ways to recycle products when we’re done with them. Timberland is working to recapture those materials. 

With a history of being a durable work boot, it’s not surprising that consumers consider Timbs to be a long lasting product. Even cooler is the fact that when they wear out, the leather can be recycled to make more Timbs.

Are Timberland’s products designed to last?

Timberland boots gained enough popularity to change the company name, which can be credited to how durable they are. Before they became fashionable streetwear, they were mostly purchased as work boots. This article from Casual Geographical Outdoor tells why they’re so expensive and explains that the durability of these boots makes them worth the price. Customers get at least 4 – 5 years out of them and, they’ve been known to last more than 20 years, like this consumer shared in a post on Quora.

Can Timberland’s products be considered fast fashion?

Though Timberland is a trendy brand, popular for more than having durable work or athletic footwear, they would not be considered fast fashion. Fast fashion brands are cheap replicas of expensive trendy ones. They’re less durable and more disposable than the more expensive brands they mimic. 

Timberland boots are not cheaply made or priced. They’re known for being durable and trendy, which makes them a brand that is replicated by, but not part of fast fashion. 

How Is the Quality of Timberland’s Products Rated

When a product is rated as high-quality it reflects on it’s durability and lifespan potential. If it is made poorly or from inferior materials, it is not likely to last or be rated very well. Making durable high quality boots is what earned Timberland a following and the nickname Timbs, and it helps them stay a popular brand of footwear.

Reviews are generally favorable about the quality of Timberland boots and shoes. They’re a fan favorite for durability. Poor ratings with customers are mostly due to customer service and online shopping experiences. In general, customer feedback tells us their footwear is popular because it lasts long, not just because Timbs are trendy.

How do users rate the quality of Timberland’s products? 

There’s over 500 reviews on Trustpilot about Timberland with an average rating of “bad,” or 1.7 out of 5-stars. Many of these are customer service and online shopping complaints. It looks like people who might get a defective product having a hard time returning it. Those unhappy with the quality seem to be more recent purchases. This Product Review site has a number of quality complaints that are recent, over the past few years. 

Many reviews we read that praised Timberland footwear were from people who had their boots for 5, 10, or 20 years. And they continue to get good reviews on newer products, like this one by Bootspy, that praised the quality of their most popular boot, Timberland’s 6-Inch Premium Waterproof Boot. The review site Tactics For Winners calls Timberland boots durable and good for everyday wear, outdoor activities, or work. 

So while there may be signs of issues with quality in recent years, Timberland boots are still known as a product that is durable and lasts a long time.

How Sustainable Is the End-of-life of Timberland Products

Filling the earth with waste is not how we get a healthy life. We need to reuse the materials we already have which means products need to be made in a way that the materials can be recycled. This is true for everything, from plastics and metals to cotton and leather, when we use these they need to be designed for reuse or they become waste.

Timberland can be applauded for their efforts to keep their products out of landfills. Through their TimberLoop program the company takes back products they sell and even ones they don’t. But the other side of being circular is designing products so they’re 100% reusable. In this area, Timberland is just getting started.

How Circular Are Timberland’s Products

For apparel to be circular it needs to be made with materials that can be captured and reused when people are done with an item. Manufacturers have to take responsibility for the materials they use and the product’s lifecycle, from cradle to grave. They not only need to make clothing with materials that can be reused, but they also need to find ways to recapture those materials. They need effective recycling programs to make that happen.

Timberland has a good start on making circular products, but they have a ways to go. If they keep pushing apparel recycling and the reuse of materials, and if they make their climate and circularity goals, there’s a chance we may call Timberland a circular brand in the near future.

Circular economy: A circular economy within the textiles industry refers to the practice of clothes and fibers continually being recycled, to re-enter the economy as much as possible rather than ending up as waste. | A circular textiles economy is in response to the current linear model of the fashion industry, in which raw materials are extracted, manufactured into commercial goods and then bought, used, and eventually discarded by consumers.”


There are a number of climate goals set by Timberland and their parent, VF Corporation (VFC), that include making circular products which is challenging for any apparel company. But Timberland has already started developing circular footwear. Their Made to Loop products are specifically designed for circularity. These boots and shoes are made to be taken apart and the materials reused when customers return them through the Timberloop program.

However, Timberland doesn’t have a lot of these circular products available yet. It’s their goal to be fully circular by 2030, but considering they make nearly 800 footwear products, it’s clear they have a ways to go before we can call them that. But it’s a start. And their efforts to recycle apparel, especially footwear, seems to be going good.

Are Timberland’s Products Made for Recycling

Natural fibers, like cotton and leather, are easier to recycle because the materials and products can be taken apart and reused. Synthetics, on the other hand, aren’t easy to take apart or reuse. So, the types of materials Timberland uses is important to circularity and whether their products can be recycled.

Like many apparel company wanting to look sustainable, Timberland takes back their products to recycle the materials. But not all brands take back their competitor’s products, Timberland does. We’d like to see more data on the volume of clothing they recycle and how the materials are used, but these efforts are a step in the right direction. 

Long before VFC bought Timberland the bootmaker was using natural and organic materials, which are easy to take apart and reuse, this makes their products highly recyclable. While we found their products contained some polyester and other synthetics, the materials used by Timberland are mostly leather and organic cotton. Nowadays, some of their products contain recycled content like Timberland’s ReBOTL plastic, or responsibly sourced fibers like Tencel™ lyocell fabric, a sustainably sourced natural raw material. 

So it looks like Timberland uses a lot of natural materials that can be recycled and content that comes from recycled materials, but what do they do to recapture products at their end-of-life?

Will Timberland’s Products Go to Waste at Their End-of-life

No matter how durable a product is, it will one day no longer be useful. When it comes to apparel it’s critical we avoid having it end up in landfills, which reports say is where nearly 80% of our clothing will eventually go, meaning that only about 20% ever gets reused or recycled.

We have to give Timberland credit for their aggressive circularity goals and efforts to recycle materials from garments and footwear. If their TimberLoop program keeps growing they could reach their goal of being climate neutral and fully circular by 2030, but they’ve got a lot of work to do.

Timberland launched their TimberLoop program in January of 2022 with the goal of making circular products. To accomplish that they needed a way to recapture apparel when consumers are done with it, so they developed the TimberLoop Takeback program. Through the program they take back used apparel – boots, shoes, clothing, and outdoor gear, and not just their own label. Timberland will take back any brand of apparel and either refurbish it for resale or recycle the materials. 

Ultimately, says Retail Dive, the goal of the TimberLoop Takeback program is to build that continual loop of materials and 100% circularity of their products. Timberland reports they have a goal of being climate neutral by 2030, which means not only emissions and waste reduction, but also full circularity.

Is Timberland Involved in Any Charities Promoting Sustainability

Through their Greener World program, and work with charities around the world, the company has planted over 18 million trees. And, they’ve worked with Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) to develop a sustainable agroforestry business model in Haiti. Beyond supporting better green spaces, Timberland gives their employees extra time off for community volunteer work.

Here’s How Sustainable Timberland Says They Are

There’s a lot of steps being taken by Timberland and their parent company, VF Corporation (VFC), to be sustainable. Timberland brings to the partnership a history of responsibly sourcing materials, and VFC is pretty darn good and sharing their supply chain information. 

What Is the Sustainability Strategy of Timberland

Timberland’s most recent Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report states they have a goal of being 100% climate neutral by 2030. That means they have less than ten years to being making zero impact from their manufacturing and products:

  • They tell us they’ll do this by continuing to support green spaces, and 
  • In less than ten years, they will be using only natural and recycled materials that will be used over and over again. 

An April 2022 article in Vogue Business talks with VF Corporation’s sustainability director about the parent company’s climate goals:

  • The executive talks about addressing their biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, third-party manufacturing, and their goals to make circular products. 
  • He noted that Timberland is spearheading their efforts in circularity with TimberLoop, and
  • Admitted that making circular products is key to building a sustainable brand.

What Sustainability Marketing Messages Does Timberland Share

If the popular bootmaker was effecting real change and had data to prove it, we would hope to see evidence in their marketing, but we don’t. Their homepage doesn’t talk about circularity or being a sustainable brand. They mostly play to their strength, which is making durable boots and being fashionable.

On their responsibility page, Timberland say “We work hard to make better products through the use of Recycled, Organic or Renewable (ROR) Product Features and Technologies,” and they talk about their Earthkeepers® Edition, made of 75% responsibly sourced materials. They tell us that 68% of their footwear features recycled, organic, or renewable materials. But you have to dig to find this information and there is no outside validation that this is what they’re doing. So we’re not sure how successful these programs are so far.

Greenwashing: behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”

Cambridge Dictionary

Timberland needs to do a better job at getting us facts. On the surface, they seem to be working on being sustainable, but why aren’t they talking about it? They need to do a better job at pushing circularity and they need to be opening up their operations to outside evaluation. Either they’re doing everything they say and we’ll see them meet their climate goals in a few years, or they’re real good at greenwashing. 

How Does Timberland Compare to Their Competitors

Sustainable Jungle is a site that reviews brands for how sustainable they are and lists top products you should buy if you want to make eco-friendly purchases. They published an article on the most sutainable men’s shoes and say they found eleven brands to be the most planet-friendly. Timberland didn’t make the list.

They may be good at using responsibly sourced and recycled content, but until they open their doors to outside evaluation we won’t know enough to call them sustainable.

How Can You Buy More Sustainable Sports Products

As a consumer, you’d want to verify what the company says on its website about their sustainable practices. Yet, you have to watch out for the companies that use marketing buzzwords to sound good but don’t stand behind those claims.

Here are some organizations that certify companies as sustainable and provide ways to search for them:

With all these resources and a few minutes of your time, you can quickly check before you next purchase how eco-friendly the company might be.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of hype about how sustainable Timberland is, and we hear VFC saying they’re environmentally friendly, but where’s the proof. Plenty of articles point to Timberland as an eco-friendly brand, but these are based on what the company says and their goals for the future. We need to see them sharing their manufacturing data and inviting in 3rd party oversight. We need to see them getting certified with organizations like bluesign® or as a b-corp. We need them to prove to us they’re being sustainable. We can’t just take their word for it.

If Timberland and VFC’s climate goals become actions with significant progress over the next few years, the bootmaker could become one of the most sustainable footwear brands on the planet.

Stay impactful,

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