The story of the Ethletic sneaker doesn’t start with a sober business plan. It starts with a ball. The first fairly manufactured soccer ball in the world. Also, the story of the Ethletic sneaker doesn’t start in an air conditioned office somewhere in a western metropolis. It starts in a production hall in Pakistan. James Lloyd and Dr. Martin Kunz, the founders of Ethletic, had set their mind on manufacturing a new generation of soccer balls. In 2004, they brought the world’s first fairly manufactured soccer balls onto the market. A pioneering achievement in an industry that was extensively known for child labor and inhumane conditions. Footballs are largely made from rubber. Because up to then no sustainability seal for rubber had existed, Martin Kunz worked to create one. Thanks to his initiative, the natural rubber from Sri Lanka – used by Ethletic – was certified for sustainable forest management by the Forest Stewardship Council – a global first.
In order to improve the living conditions of ball sewers in Pakistan, Ethletic, in 2006, was the first sports brand to voluntarily and out of conviction donate a special premium: 15 % of the purchase price is paid to the workers’ welfare association at the production facilities. To this day, it is the sole responsibility of the women and men to decide which projects they want to use this money on, for instance for the education of their children, healthcare, pensions or for micro-loans.
And then there’s the thing about the sneaker. In 2007, during a meeting with Pakistan’s production manager Mr. Zulifiqar, it slips out of the pocket of one of the founders. Rubber soles. Stitched canvas. Mr. Zulifiqar immediately recognizes a new business venture for his workforce and confidently states: “We can do this, too.” The idea is in the world: a fairly-traded sneaker, manufactured in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, using the established Ethletic supply chains. Employees are trained, prototypes are made. In 2010, the Ethletic Sneaker becomes worldwide the first sneaker on the market to be certified with the Fairtrade quality seal for organic cotton. In the same year the German Association of Worldshops (Weltladen-Dachverband), with strict criteria and a pioneer in fair trade, adds Ethletic to its list of accredited suppliers.
However, the development of our brand is far from complete. Quite to the contrary. Marc Solterbeck, Ethletic CEO since 2011, travels to Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan several times a year. He is concerned with the continuous improvement of quality, the training of staff, the stability of fair and sustainable supply chains, and especially with the contact to the people He says: “The people who work for Ethletic aren’t numbers on a balance sheet or a cost factor for us. We know these people. We appreciate them and their skills, their commitment, their history.”
Humanity paired with ambitious ideas
This interconnection makes headlines for Ethletic in 2013. One year before, the Berlin architect and freethinker Van Bo Le -Mentzel had approached Mr. Solterbeck. His plan: to produce “Karma Chakhs” – good shoes with good karma – with the help of Crowd supporters and Ethletic. This project provides an opportunity to evaluate the entire production line, from the cotton plantations to the finished shoe, and present it vividly to the supporters. A film crew accompanied Bo and Marc on their journey. The report reaches millions and documents the vision of the brand.
A vision that lives off creative impulses. In 2014, the artist Kay Wright designs a limited fashion collection for Ethletic: the “Ethical Couture”, made from 100 % Fairtrade organic cotton. In the same year, the singer Ole Feddersen travels with the Ethletic team to the small farmers in India and incorporates his impressions into the song “Have a Good Feeling”. The Berlin musician, DJ, and video journalist Wolfgang Lohr produces Ethletic film clips.
A vision that lives off substance and professionalism. Since September 2014, Johanna Balzer, a Berlin-based designer, has been expanding the brand. The assortment now includes new styles and models: modern, comfortable, straightforward. A process through which the range of ethical alternatives in the sneaker market is growing. A process in which Ethletic’s commitment to fairness and sustainability is not only the basis for everything – it’s also permanent.