There’s no sugarcoating the fact that most of the apparel we make comes from petroleum-based materials. And while we’re stoked that our gear empowers some people to ride rather than drive, it’s a tough sell to equate our product with environmental sustainability.
But give us a break, right? What can be expected from a cycling apparel company beyond performance and style?
A simple answer: more.
More is what employees at PEARL iZUMi relentlessly pressed for when it came to addressing our social and environmental impact.
“It was, in my view, absolutely necessary,” says designer Cory Hibbard. “If we all want to be outside and enjoy the beautiful places we ride, then we must take action to change how we design, manufacture, and think, in order to ensure those places will still exist in the future. We have leverage as a company to influence how we approach sustainability within our business, and leverage leads to significant positive impact.”
Ideas and small steps had been simmering for years. But it was our employees’ tenacity and devotion to higher ideals that formed the roots of our social purpose and galvanized action.
Dave Loutzenheiser, head of continuous improvement, finance, has championed sustainability the entirety of the 15 years he’s worked here. “We organized a long time ago, starting with small things – like recycling and driving less – that grew into bigger things,” explains Dave. “We were integrating these small efforts into our company culture, but it takes buy-in to elevate the value of sustainability to a higher plane.”
Materials and sourcing lead, Carol Little, had also been tenaciously working to affect positive change in her department. Yet without environmental impact formally identified as a driving force for the entire company, her arguments for sustainable materials and practices were weighed heavily against other deciding factors.
“Our biggest impact is the product we make and how we make it,” says Carol. “It’s something I have a real passion for. How can we make it all better?” Over the years, she managed to slip some premium, recycled polyester content into the otherwise virgin polyester supply chain. She was also able to establish some baseline measurements around the environmental and social sustainability of our supply chain.
But Carol, like Dave, recognized that a meaningful sustainability initiative required an operational and philosophical overhaul, not just one-off tactics. To do it right, the initiative needed company-wide approval, a unified theme around which to rally, and an organized process through which to evaluate ideas, measure success, and hold ourselves accountable to one another, to our customers, and to the planet.
With new executive leadership in 2017 and the rising chorus of cyclists looking to soften their own environmental impact, the timing was right to push for company-wide buy-in. Buoyed by conviction, our employees were met not only by willing listeners but also by like-minded thinkers.
Together, we embarked on a company-wide exercise to establish a new mission and uncover our core values, and to help us cultivate raw energy into tangible change. The five values we identified are trust, craft, empathy, impact and plus one. And from those values, impact specifically, came our social purpose statement:
“Because we believe how we live shapes how future generations ride,
we pledge to ride more and do more.“
This is the unifying theme and guiding principle that grounds all of our social and environmental impact initiatives, and it is the formal recognition that our team members needed to turn ideas into action.
“I have the power to affect change now,” says Lynn Bush, senior design manager, apparel. “The social purpose gave us a launch pad. As a brand, we’ve made a shift to lead with design and focus more on the experience for our customer. While that includes expected aspects of the experience, like how a garment feels on your body, it now also includes a higher purpose.”
We are at the first stage in our own transformation. The aspiration of our social purpose is intentionally lofty because we know token measures will not have the significant impact we feel is necessary. “The first step is to determine what we can do here,” says Joss Hollingworth, senior manager, supply chain. “The next step is thinking bigger than PEARL iZUMi. We can have an impact as a single company, but if the entire industry collaborates, we can do exponentially more.”
Our social purpose came directly from the minds and hearts of our employees. “We wanted something that would be meaningful enough to be ingrained in the company, and continue to be relevant for years down the road,” Cory says.
It is meant to be a living, evolving work in progress. We plan to bring everyone along with us through the process of defining it, substantiating it, and above all, living up to it. “We’re still figuring out actual measurables, so right now our goal is ‘better for the next generation,’” explains Carol. “The goalpost will move and we want to be nimble enough to move with it.”
The only certainty is that we’re not thinking small. Our goals are big and we want our positive impacts to be even bigger. We’re changing how we make products; we’re minimizing packaging; we’re reducing waste; we’re changing the materials we use without compromising performance. We’re investigating how we can consume less fuel in shipping and distribution and how we can lead by example to mobilize the outdoor and cycling industries. This mission begins with us, but we know it is much bigger.
If a brand is nothing but the people who bring it to life and the products those people create, these are the people behind PEARL iZUMi.
We invite you along for the ride.