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Leave it to Virgil Abloh to make reusable water bottles fashionable

Evian wants to become a fully circular company by 2025, and luxury water bottles–designed by Abloh, its new “creative director for sustainable design”–may be one way to get there.

Leave it to Virgil Abloh to make reusable water bottles fashionable

It’s New York Fashion Week. Virgil Abloh, the polymath designer, is making a splash. But it’s not for his work as a fashion designer at Louis Vuitton or his own label, Off-White. This week, Abloh unveiled his newest creation: a glass water bottle, made by sustainable water brand SOMA, with a silicone sleeve printed with the Evian logo and the words “Rainbow Inside” in the designer’s signature quotation marks. Abloh and Evian are framing this bottle as a limited-edition luxury design object: It will be sold through the fashion website Matches Fashion, although there is no word yet about how much it will cost.

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In December 2018, Abloh joined Evian as its first-ever creative advisor for sustainable design. Over the last few years, Abloh has proven that he can apply his design skills to almost any product. He’s created a clear suitcase for Rimowa and a rose bottle for Moët and Chandon. But his new bottle for Evian is only the first fruits of what will be an ongoing partnership between Abloh and the water brand. Evian, which is owned by Danone, announced in January 2018 that it plans to become a 100% circular brand by 2025. This means it will only use recycled plastic in its bottles and work with recycling companies to ensure that these bottles go on to be recycled again after they’re used. But this luxury bottle offers some clues about other ways Evian may move toward becoming more sustainable.

We’ve recently hit a tipping point in the anti-plastic movement. Plastic does not biodegrade, so it lives on forever, contributing to the already enormous quantity of plastic humans have created since the 1950s, when plastic was mass marketed. Up to 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year, and, by 2050, studies show there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, than fish. While activists have been sounding the alarm for decades about how our overconsumption of plastic is choking marine animals and filling up our landfills, it’s only recently that mainstream brands have joined the fight to cut plastic out of their supply chains.

Last year, Adidas has announced it would cut out all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2024, while large corporations like Starbucks, Disneys, and Marriott said they would eliminate single-use straws, which are known to harm sea animals. A group of giant corporations like Unilever and Procter and Gamble are working with a startup called Loop to replace disposable plastic containers with refillable ones.

Disposable water bottles are a particularly egregious waste of plastic. By some counts, the world produces a million bottles of plastic a minute, only 9% of which will be recycled. And our pace of production has increased from 300 billion plastic bottles a year in 2004 to 475 billion in 2016. At this pace, we will generate 600 billion plastic bottles a year by 2021. The dozens of water brands on the market–including Evian, Dasani, Aquafina, Poland Spring, and Fiji–have helped to stimulate this enormous demand for disposable water bottles.

Water companies seeking to become more sustainable have some major challenges ahead. In many countries where these products are sold, including the United States and many parts of Europe, tap water is drinkable, so the entire business model of these brands is to make hydration more convenient by making the bottles disposable.

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From what we can tell from this collaboration, Evian is tinkering with another way forward. The company is trying to turn the reusable bottle into a coveted object, which could lead to a viable revenue stream in the future. Brands like Swell and BKR have sold beautifully designed reusable bottles for years now, and it’s possible that Evian will create similar products. But if consumers can put tap water in their refillable Evian bottle, will they no longer need Evian water?

It’s unclear how these water brands will survive in a world where single-use plastic–even the recycled kind–is seen as polluting and actively shunned by consumers. In his new sustainability role at Evian, Abloh will have a lot to think about.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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