Back in 2016, Adidas launched their new environmentally conscious clothing line. This was in conjunction with eco no-profit organisation Parley for the Oceans. They featured a small selection of football shirts tailored using upcycled marine plastics. Described as “eco innovation meets sports performance”, the line has since expanded to include clubs throughout Europe and North America. This is more than a token fashion statement intended to draw global attention to the plight of environmental issues like ocean plastic and climate change.
Parley for the Oceans was founded in 2012 by German designer Cyrill Gutsch, who has been a lifelong campaigner for a cleaner and more sustainable world. Since growing up in the Black Forest region of his native Germany where he was the beneficiary of a strict education centred around recycling.
Parley for the Ocean ‘s first foray into the football fashion world culminated in two initial offerings in the form of special edition Real Madrid and Bayern Munich home shirts. Both clubs debuted their variants of the Parley with the Ocean shirt in their respective matches, with Real wearing their edition in a 2-1 win over Sporting Gijon and Bayern opting to sport theirs during a one-all draw against TSG Hoffenheim.
Los Merengues’ 2016/17 special edition home jersey was given the full sustainable treatment. Each individual shirt is created from 28 plastic bottles collected off the coast of the Maldives and finished with a water-based paint. It is a pioneering piece of eco-apparel that retains the essence of a classic Real Madrid shirt, with a solid white base and off-white club crest, sponsor and Adidas logo. The finish presents a crisp, cool visage that was immediately aided on its debut by Real Madrid playing in a torrential downpour, whereupon the garments became translucent shrouds clinging to the rippled figures of the players donning them.
Over in Bavaria, Bayern Munich have donned two iterations of Parley for the Ocean shirts, beginning with a rich red edition that was launched in 2016, followed by a striking steel grey outfit that saw use in the 2018/19 campaign.
The red shirt is reminiscent of the Real Madrid edition in that it features a broad red base with deep-red club and sponsor branding, including the tagline “For the oceans” displayed on the v-neckline. In addition, every shirt comes replete with a near-field communication (NFC) chip that contains further information for the consumer on the work of Parley for the Oceans and how the club is supporting their efforts.
The steel grey edition, meanwhile, sees a sleek all-over Adidas print to give a pleasing metallic finish and is again supplemented with a water-based paint. Similarly, the jersey itself is made from upcycled marine plastic waste which forms technical yarn fibres for “high-performance apparel” and is completely sustainable.
Such was the success of Adidas’ foray into eco-apparel that they launched a series of Parley for the Ocean kits across the MLS in the 2017/18 campaign for the likes of LA Galaxy, New York City, Orlando City and Seattle Sounders. Following the same principles, the special edition shirts were designed from marine plastic collected as part of a wider initiative to clean up the Indian Ocean, and further batches were released for select clubs across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaigns in North America.
It remains to be seen whether the initiative has done much to alter attitudes towards ocean clean-up in the United States, but it has not stopped Parley for the Oceans and Adidas continuing their partnership throughout the following years. Although the manufacture of football garments has slowed down since the initial success enjoyed throughout the period from 2016 to 2019, Adidas has still produced tens of millions of trainers using upcycled plastic taken from the waters around the Maldives and other islands in the Indian Ocean. As recently as 2020, the organisation announced a lucrative partnership with the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme and the World Bank to begin the clean-up of plastic pollution across bodies of water in South-east Asia.
Not only have these football-themed ventures generated significant interest in the mission set out by Parley for the Oceans, they have received critical acclaim from the wider fashion world as well as garnered statements of support from footballers like Marcelo and Xabi Alonso.
Though the Adidas × Parley for the Oceans collection has seen a shift in emphasis toward sustainable running gear and outreach work, such as its Run for the Oceans campaign, the brands’ work alongside several high-profile football clubs remains an important part of their mission to cultivate greater awareness of the plight of the world’s oceans.