When you work with issues impacting every single person on this planet, the weight of the world can feel heavy on your shoulders. Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans, knows this well.

“When I started Parley in 2012, the forecast was that by the year 2048 the oceans will die, leading to irreversible damage to our planet. Turns out, this was too optimistic; we actually have 10 years to spin things around,” tells Cyrill, admitting it’s difficult to relax with the clock ticking.

Change comes with pain, he knows, and change is usually met with resistance. But change also needs time, so Cyrill is taking action to end ocean plastic pollution.

"We are heading towards true eco-innovation," believes Cyrill, sending a wake-up call to fashion and sports industries.

The Ripple Effect Sends Waves

A small and agile organization at heart, Parley knew they’d need a strong leader on their side, one equally committed to cleaning up the oceans to save marine wildlife by taking plastic out of the food chain.

“adidas is both structured and flexible, but also confident to let us be demanding, annoying even. Plus, they knew they were producing plastic waste, and were determined to cut it down.”

After the adidas and Parley partnership was announced in April 2015, the message was heard throughout the fashion and sporting industries. A branding and marketing professional himself, Cyrill believes the creative industries have more power than they realize.

“Together we create trends, and trends have the power to shift thinking and behavior – sometimes even overnight. Technology and fashion are perhaps the fastest change agents there are,” he says.

The partnership between adidas and Parley is an ongoing learning process.

“Comparing the conversations I had a year ago to the feedback I get today, the difference is huge. The major players – consumer brands and polluters – take us seriously. They have adopted our way of talking about sustainability.”

The sustainability adidas and Parley are championing has replaced defensive environmentalism with innovation and design. “Let’s forget the concept of sustainability. We can’t stand still anymore. Eco-innovation is the only answer to the threat we are facing: the threat of extinction,” explains Cyrill.

Following this philosophy, Cyrill calls plastic a design failure; it’s not meant to end up in the stomachs of animals, and at the end of the food chain in humans. Parley’s long-term solution for plastic pollution is to re-invent the material. In the short term, their A.I.R. strategy guides everyone to AVOID plastic wherever you can, INTERCEPT plastic and pollution, then REDESIGN the source of the problem: the material.

This infographic shows how marine ocean plastic is turned into an adidas shoe. adidas, Parley, supply chain, ocean plastic, sustainability, production, sourcing
Together the partners have designed not only a new product, but an entire supply chain.

Taking Ownership of the Supply Chain

According to Cyrill, major manufacturers have a tendency to act like professional consumers: they buy standard material, put it together in garments in factories they don’t own, then sell the garments.

“Consumers expect brands to act responsibly, but how can companies be responsible for their product when they don’t know how it’s essentially made?” he challenges.

This is what adidas and Parley did by first tearing open the supply chain and putting every part under the microscope. As a result, the innovative Parley shoe made from recycled ocean plastic was born.

The adidas x Parley shoe is a product of unique collaboration.

“When we look at the yarn we used for the shoe, we can name the people who collected it. We know who shipped it. We know exactly how the material was recycled and where the yarn was spun.”

In addition to the shoe, Cyrill cites the creation of the new supply chain as a major feat in its own right. “Ideas lead to strategies and, by becoming a system, strategies lead to big-scale change,” he summarizes.

Designing the Future Together

Recently Parley partnered up with the United Nations to work with small island states such as the Maldives, Seychelles, and Grenada.

“These island communities are the contrast of beauty and fragility. The ocean is their capital, their right to be. On the other hand, they’re the first ones to observe changes in weather patterns and, consequently, the first ones to suffer from climate change and pollution.

Even if the local governments have the desire to change, they lack resources to tackle the source of the problem: plastic dumped in the ocean.

“Our collaboration is beautiful because we don’t have to disrupt existing structures,” says Cyrill. “Together we can design the perfect system.”

In the meanwhile, the rest of the world might see the ocean as a playground for the wealthy. Most people are also alienated from the sea, thinking their life doesn’t impact the oceans.

“This is wrong,” asserts Cyrill. “Every breath you take, independent from where you are, is generated by the sea. If it’s raining, it’s largely because of the oceans. You also get a lot of your food from the sea.”

Sometimes Cyrill wishes his job would be simpler; the role of an intermediator trying to reconnect mankind with the oceans is stressful. But with influential brands with big platforms shaking things up and raising awareness of plastic pollution, people just might eventually let go of the thought ‘someone out there will take care of my trash’.

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by Isabel 26.09.2016
It would be great to launch the kids version. Let´s change the mindset of the future generation.
by Rob 01.10.2016
The Adidas / Parley partnership sounds like a good step towards removing plastic debris from the oceans - if the partnership results in more than prototypes. These materials should be used by Adidas on an ongoing basis. I hope to see this material incorporated into many or all Adidas footwear in future. Perhaps the fibers might also be used in other products, too. This would turn Adidas from a major contributor to climate change (factory farmed leather) to an example of positive change.
by Gregory Moulinet 06.11.2016
The Whole mindset and outlook is just brilliant. Cyrill talk the marketing business language and adapt it to the most important cause of our time. It's highly inspiring and I hope many more people in the design, marketing, supply chain industry, especially in the fashion and food sector will get the memo quickly.
by Heidi Green 29.12.2016
I am impressed. My question is - what's the end of life plan for these products?
Nina Weihrauch
Nina Weihrauch | Editor Heidi Green 10.01.2017
Hi Heidi,

thank you for your question. You raise a good point.
At adidas, we recently committed to roll out a global product take-back program to all of our key cities and markets. This will be built on the learnings from existing take-back pilots we are running in countries such as Brazil and Canada. We are also looking into future closed loop possibilities with the Sport Infinity project, http://www.adidas-group.com/en/sustainability/products/sustainability-innovation/#/adidas-nodye/sport-infinity/.


by Inger-Mette Stenseth 18.03.2017
With a dedicated heart for Gameplan A, I would like to contribute to this mission of sustainability and the necessary revolution in our consumer behavior, from linear to circular economy.

I live in Norway - work in fashion - and would like to connect. Thank you for this article - it is of great inspiration. We are all in this together, and let us bring the younger generation into this field of sustainability with and zest for all life on earth
by Maria Nokkonen Inger-Mette Stenseth 20.03.2017
Hi Inger-Mette,
Thanks for your note. It’s always inspiring to hear from people who are committed to building a better future for us all :) If you have a GamePlan A topic in mind, you can use our contribution module to suggest one: https://www.gameplan-a.com/contribute
I’m also happy to connect with you on LinkedIn.
by inger-Mette Stenseth Maria Nokkonen 20.03.2017
Thank you Maria! I will think about it and study your Gameplans ....and be quite and meditate on your question. Then go for a hike, run and sense in for inspiration in nature. My LinkedIn is imperfect, but sure we can connect.

If you look at www.360hub.global ....and it could be that the idea of "beta" ...is where I fit inthe persepctive of Adidas.
"the pentathlete". The meaning is similar to Betain that a pentathlete has to be very good at five different sports, but will probably not be a champion in any of the individual sports.

Eratosthenes called himself "philologos" - "lover of learning". ..... maybe this is my Gameplan A - how can we all learn together?

I am a penta-athlete from childhood & youth - I stopped as the number 2 at the age of 17.

Thank you for connecting and your answer

by billy owens 11.02.2018
I am a ex-NBA basketball player. Me and my team have a product and technology that would help you save money on return apparel and footwear and etc.. We have a 3D measurement device that you can fit in your pocket or a brief case. with our device and technology you would never have to have you clients come to you. Our device is portable and affordable. We have several of pending Patents out there on our technology.
your big endorser's like James Harden, Damian Lillard, Carmen Jorda, etc. What we got is real time measurement and takes no longer then 3-5 min to take a avatar and less then 3 min to take a 3D image or 2D image of a body part.

lets connect soon!

Billy Owens
Syracuse university
10 yrs in The NBA



Interview: The Parley Effect - A Word from adidas SA - Sneaker Fortress