Written by Jeni Bone
07 June 2023
Growing up in Germany’s mountainous Black Forest region, Cyrill Gutsch was always intrigued by the sea. The award-winning designer and brand developer – renowned for his work with BMW, Lufthansa, Levi’s and adidas among others – was brought up to respect nature and conserve resources.
Then, in 2012, Gutsch experienced an epiphany of sorts when he was introduced to Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson’s powerful call to arms – If the oceans die, we die – resonated with him. “I realised we’re in a crisis right now,” explains Gutsch, CEO and Founder of Parley for the Oceans, a non-profit organisation seeking real-world solutions to the challenge of marine pollution.
“The oceans are under massive attack, and we’re destroying them at rapid speeds. So, I called my partner in New York, and we decided to take a stand – we will not allow a dead sea to become the legacy of our generation.
“We need to defend diversity on land and in the sea, and we need solutions – and these solutions can only be realised by harnessing the imaginative side of human culture; the arts.”
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Parley was founded as a collaboration network for creators, thinkers and leaders – a new form of environmental organisation to raise awareness of the beauty and fragility of oceans and take action to end their destruction. Parley aims to drive toward a new idea of economy, one that is based on collaboration, eco-innovation and creativity.
Through their Avoid, Intercept, Redesign (AIR) strategy, Parley’s global team is focused on avoiding the use of plastics; intercepting plastic waste before it reaches the oceans; and redesigning the material itself by developing eco-innovative materials that can be used in manufacturing to replace plastic. This strategy is Parley’s answer to ending the fast-growing threat of marine plastic pollution.
To create immediate change, Parley believes we must stop producing plastic and use upcycled marine plastic waste instead, which is how the Ocean Plastic® program was developed.
Parley Ocean Plastic is a premium yarn that has been developed from upcycled plastic debris and fishing gear recovered from remote islands, coastal communities and shorelines by Parley’s Global Cleanup Network and its partners. Based in New York with operations worldwide, Gutsch and his team leverage their global network to inspire and empower diverse groups such as corporations, highprofile brands, governments, artists, designers, scientists, innovators and environmentalists to explore new ways of creating, thinking and living.
Through collaborations with brands such as adidas and Dior, Parley is making inroads, amplifying their message and reducing the impact of plastic on our seas.
“We turned products into Symbols of Change by creating them from upcycled marine plastic waste,” Gutsch explained. “The people who buy them fly them like flags; they become a conversational item and a trust seal for a new audience – one that votes with their wallet and shows loyalty for our cause.”
In 2021, Parley counted among its achievements a slew of new alliances worldwide. The Parley Global Cleanup Network welcomed additional volunteers to its 408,970-strong network, furthering their aim to “create a global movement of changemakers, ocean activists and hard-working do-ers.”
Following the opening of the Parley Ocean School and AIR Station in South Africa, they added to their fleet of ocean schools with a new AIR Station in Hawaii. The station acts as a community hub for collaboration, education and eco-innovation, inspiring action on plastic pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss and other significant threats to our oceans.
Parley has also continued to work on its “material revolution”, expanding its Ocean Plastic partnership with adidas, which now comprises various ranges of footwear and activewear made from kilos of illegal deep-sea gillnet and other intercepted plastic waste that is engineered into high-performance materials by the Parley global network.
Also in 2021, Parley teamed up with the Australia SailGP Team, taking on the fight against marine plastic pollution and other threats to a global audience through zeroemission racing, team actions and high-profile events worldwide. A world-first in sport, the SailGP Impact League integrates positive sustainability action, with teams competing at each event to win points in the league.
In 2022, the New Zealand SailGP Team took the Podium for the Planet with its Race for the Future partner, Live Ocean. Great Britain came in second with STEM Crew and Australia third with Parley, winning Parley US$15,000 to put toward their Global Cleanup Network.
As Tom Slingsby, helmsman and CEO of Australia SailGP, explained, “We have an opportunity to use our platform to not only educate and inspire a generation of environmental advocates, but also work with an incredible, world-renowned partner in Parley, who can help put our vision of a greener future into action.
“Our team is passionate about leaving a positive impact that extends beyond sailing to protecting the future of our planet. Working with Parley on the SailGP Impact League has given us a means of enacting tangible change as a team and as an organisation to drive impact in our race for the planet and ocean.”
Gutsch said the partnership is an example of true collaboration. “Through this partnership, we’re excited to bring some of the biggest threats facing our oceans to a global audience while also demonstrating our role in being a part of the solution.
“Sport really does have the power to make a change. Through the power of community, education and activism, and with partners such as SailGP Australia, we can turn the oceans’ cause into a truly global movement as it should be.
“SailGP has lived up to its promise of taking big, bold steps toward championing a world powered by nature. We’re excited to see what they have in store following some hefty commitments, such as their initial goal of winning the race to zero carbon, to powering and shifting from technologies based on fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable power by 2025. We see them as not just a supporter of Parley, but a true collaborator and change-maker.”
Continuing their work in our region, Parley will focus on remote areas, specifically Cape York and the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, which are seeing both the severe impact of human waste and marine debris, as well as education, and exposure and involvement with businesses in productive partnerships.
“The threats are many, but so are the solutions,” is the optimistic anthem Parley promotes as the world confronts the next decade, which scientists warn will be pivotal in the planet’s future.
“We want to make sure we are fast enough to meet the ultimate deadline, turning the ship around before we lose a treasure we have only just started to explore and still don’t fully understand – the incredible blue universe beneath us; the oceans.”