He has been working for adidas for over 17 years and has held several roles within adidas AG. As Global Head of Engineering he was responsible for engineering, simulation and building a global R&D network. In his position as Senior Innovation Director he led Product Innovation of key categories like Running, Basketball and Outdoor. Together with his team, he has created many game-changing innovations for the adidas brand, including ClimaCool, Boost, Springblade and a series of matchballs for the FIFA World Cup and UEFA Champions League. Gerd and his team work on future products and production methods together with internal and external partners.
Interview to Gerd Manz
Question (Q): How will the sportswear industry transform in the next few years? How does adidas respond to that transformation?
Gerd Manz (GM): There are a series of trends that we can see already: our customers increasingly desire to take part in creation processes; they are socially and environmentally conscious and, in a digital world, fast access to desired product is essential to them. This means that future manufacturing solutions of sports and fashion products will have to be fast, flexible and well embedded into the digital and cultural space.
Going forward, advanced athlete assessment, new digital design & creation tools as well as innovative manufacturing solutions will provide our consumers with completely new product customisation and retail experiences.
Q: adidas is betting on production in Speedfactories and on 3D-printing in local stores. Why is adidas taking its manufacturing closer to the market and the consumer?
GM: SPEEDFACTORY brings production to where the consumer is, giving the consumer what they want, when they want it and where they want it.
In a nutshell, SPEEDFACTORY will enable the flexible manufacturing of sporting goods with the help of automated and intelligent technologies.
Our vision is to set up a network of connected SPEEDFACTORIES in key markets across various locations. . This will enable an information exchange between such SPEEDFACTORIES in terms of production techniques, local trends, material or capacity availability, etc. Our ambition is to reduce lead times from months to weeks and further to days or hours while potentially allowing instore co-creation with our consumer.
Q: What are the consequences for current manufacturing processes?
GM: Even though SPEEDFACTORY has high business potential, the current manufacturing model that has developed over decades will continue to deliver the majority of products created in our industry.
Nevertheless, our SPEEDFACTORY R&D aims to create innovative materials, new product and manufacturing modules which will be far more resource-efficient, extremely flexible and environmentally friendly. These innovations, with all their benefits, will certainly be implemented into the current manufacturing infrastructure in a way that the whole manufacturing model will take advantage from the above mentioned benefits.
Q: How do partnerships with other companies and/or NGO’s fuel sustainable and innovative solutions at adidas? Can you give an example of such a partnership?
GM: Engaging openly with partners like NGOs, industry peers or the academia is a fundamental part of our innovation strategy and culture. This approach has proven to be more effective as it generates better ideas which can be brought to market much faster and with an increased success rate.
This certainly also relates to our sustainability innovation effort: the adidas Group works with partners such as the Better Cotton Initiative, bluesign technologies and Parley for the Oceans to take the industry to the next level.
Let’s take Parley for the Oceans as an example. For us, this partnership is an example of the adidas Group’s open-source innovation approach that engages with partners, crowd-sources ideas and co-creates the future of the industry. It also perfectly fits into our new Sustainability Strategy “Sport needs a Space”,
As founding member, adidas supports Parley for the Oceans in its education and communication efforts, as well as its comprehensive Ocean Plastic Program (A.I.R., Avoid, Intercept, and Redesign) that intends to end plastic pollution of the oceans. Since the partnership was announced in April 2015, adidas has taken concrete immediate steps in this direction. Examples are:
- The adidas Group phased out the use of plastic bags in its own retail stores. The phase-out has just been announced. Read more here.
- Together with our partner COTY, we ended the use of plastic microbeads across all our body care products by December 31st, 2015. Read more here.
- We stopped the use of plastic bottles for meetings at our Headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
- In November 2015, a group of 20 employees attended the Parley Ocean School, a unique program that blends ocean activism with experiential learning and activities in a marine environment. Employees helped retrieve plastic debris from coastal areas; furthermore, thanks to Parley Talks with the experts, employees learned about the state of the oceans and are now acting as Parley ambassadors. We are looking at extending this initiative to more employees going forward. Watch this video:
By partnering with Parley for the Oceans we are contributing to a great environmental cause, but at the same time we will co-create new materials from ocean plastic waste which we will gradually but constantly integrate into our product.
We have already brought two prototypes to life:
- The first innovative footwear concept born from our collaboration with Parley. See press release here
- The 3D-printed Ocean Plastic shoe midsole. Read more here.
We are currently working on turning old gillnets and ocean plastic into fibers that we can use to make a performance shoe, for a consumer ready range of footwear that will be brought to market in the course of 2016. Although our priority now is footwear, we are also working on apparel products that will be available for consumers in the second half of 2016.
So while we contribute to an environmental cause, we are also contributing to a better future for our industry.
Q: How does Sport Infinity fit in adidas’ vision for the future and vision for sustainability? What specific steps are planned in this programme?
GM: Sport Infinity perfectly fits into the adidas Group’s new Sustainability Strategy “Sport Needs a Space”. As part of the new Strategy, we are committed to steadily increasing the use of more sustainable materials and processes in our production, products and stores. At the same time, we are driving towards closed-loop solutions.
To achieve this, we invest in R&D for materials, processes and innovative product solutions which will allow us to upcycle materials and reduce waste. Sport Infinity, a research project supported by the European Commission, clearly aligns with this vision to enable meaningful cradle to cradle solutions by developing highly innovative recyclable materials and manufacturing approaches for performance sporting goods.
The project also validates these new approaches by engaging intensively with young athletes – ensuring that sport infinity products are matching expectations of our target consumers in regards to performance as well as look & feel.