Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Fashion, Dress and Merchandising

Committee Chair

Kathryn Jones

Committee Co-Chair

Craig Nelson

Committee Member

Debanjan Das


The apparel and footwear industry's negative environmental impacts have companies facing scrutiny as consumer environmental consciousness increases (Brewer, 2019). Apparel and footwear companies are scrambling to develop sustainable initiatives with more consumers demanding they be held accountable for their actions. The industry has focused on recycling, raw materials sourcing, and reducing production waste during product development for more sustainable outcomes. This qualitative case study explores how sustainability as an abstract corporate initiative affects footwear companies and product development processes. The best way to explore how companies engage and execute sustainable practices in their product development process is by examining it in context. With that in mind, this study was set into the product development department at footwear companies, engaging directly with members of footwear product development teams, both full-time employees and freelancers. The research seeks to understand how footwear product developers conceive their role in contributing to the corporate structure's sustainability initiatives. I conducted a phenomenological case study to better understand the product developer’s sustainability experiences in footwear design. Interpretivism, accompanied by a phenomenological approach, centralized the informant’s lived experience and the meaning they ascribe to their practices (Wilson, 2015.) Interviews with four purposely selected informants provided insight into their positions and perspectives. The interviews consisted of a series of semi-structured, open-ended questions. Another series of questions were developed informed by the SVAT (Sustainable Value Analysis Tool). This tool provided a coding structure to better understand how the practices of these particular informants would be framed through an established, industry lens. The findings highlighted the relationship between sustainable goals set in place by companies’ corporate structures and the enacted practices of employees in product development roles. Areas in which the informants expressed influence was in circular design initiatives, utilization of recycled materials, information sharing, and logistical tracking of manufacturing processes. These initiatives all aligned with stated goals of the companies. Pursuing recycled materials in footwear products resulted in challenges as the product development teams encountered quality and durability issues specifically with recycled plastics and rubbers. These challenges became a barrier in reaching goals at both Company M and Company S. Product development teams of both companies recognized ways in which they could strategically incorporate the recycled materials into footwear products resulting in innovation and successful initiatives. Interviewees expressed that the newness of sustainability as a focus in the footwear industry is contributing to the current barriers and challenges footwear developers are facing. Interviewees shared their hopes that as the focus matures, innovations will lead to further growth in sustainability opportunities. The SVAT (Sustainable Value Analysis Tool) further elucidated findings by breaking down the beginning, middle and end of a product’s life. By aligning the interview questions with this method of SVAT the study found that most companies are focusing their efforts on the beginning-of-life (BOL) stage Specifically, they are focusing on design and material make up of footwear products.