Po-Zu… Shoes, Feet and Earth: Challenge and Change
An increasing number of industries are taking steps to change the way they work and embrace the environmental and sustainability agenda. For some the change is dynamic and fast moving, and for others the change is more tentative. Po-Zu shoes are leading the way.
There are different ways to approach the challenge; size for instance is important with some, such as small-scale artisanal producers, working with traditional skills are able to make sure that their impacts are minimal.
The shoe industry, like many others, faces these dilemmas too. Small choices, such as stitching the shoes instead of using toxic glues, become big, impactful choices. Some debates go on, commentators still arguing as to whether leather is the most appropriate material to use. Criticised by the vegetarian community in particular, leather, a by-product of food production, is durable and can be repaired. I recall the story told by the New York leather goods producers Billykirk, about the heirloom quality of leather, just like their fathers cowboy boots, handed down through generations. The trade-offs are difficult to calculate. Leather is not particularly sustainable due to the fact that it takes about 80 tons of forage to feed just one cow in its lifetime. But on the other hand, the majority of ‘vegan’ faux leathers are not kind to the environment either, because their manufacture releases harmful substances. Then there are shoes makers in the mass market who face enormous challenges with the resources they use and the way they produce, transport and deal with end of use issues.
One manufacturer leading the change in the footwear industry is Po-Zu. Founded in 2006 by Sven Segal, Po-Zu has grown and so too has its innovative range of footwear and accessories some as amazing as their multi purpose edible shoe cream. The Po-Zu brand is one of a small number of beautiful standout companies in the footwear industry. Lets not forget, this is a challenging industry and a volatile marketplace for innovative businesses like Po-Zu.
Challenge of the Shoe Market
The market itself, though slowed considerably by recession, was worth approx $130 billion in 2010. Estimates suggest the Global Footwear Manufacturing Industry produced approximately 12.15 billion pairs of shoes, up from 11.63 billion in 2006. Developing countries dominated production volumes in the industry. In 2010, approximately 57% of total shoes manufactured in the world, or 6.9 billion pairs of shoes, were Chinese-made shoes. This was up from around 6.5 billion pairs, or 56% in 2006. Footwear manufacturers in low cost labour and resource countries in the developing world such as Vietnam, China and Mexico will lead the mass market in the years to come. Economies of scale and industrialised mass-production meets the needs of many cash strapped consumers, and though the high-end brand names have flirted with eco models in their range, the relationship has been fleeting. Adbusters Unswooshers alternative to athletics manufacturers Nike, have had limited success thus far. In many cases small-scale manufacturers face an uphill battle in a mature market.
Po-Zu produce a wide range of designs for men and women, and have recently began expanding their vegetarian and vegan range which will soon make up half of their collection. The distinctiveness of their shoes is in their design qualities including the latex rubber sole, the comfy coir foot mattress which gradually moulds to the shape of your foot over time, and the cozy wool fabrics and leather detailing of the uppers, all of which can be composted back into the earth at the end of their life. Working with cool brands such as Maharishi and Timberland may provide opportunities to make business inroads, but real credibility comes from Po-Zu’s ethical and environmental choices. Brazilian accessories brand Amazon Life was chosen so Po-Zu could use their distinctive natural Treetap® rubber, as Amazon Life works in alliance with the Rubber Tappers Association in Brazil, ensuring that the indigenous communities in the rainforest can earn a sustainable living, while preserving their environment and their cultural heritage. Thinking about the extensive processes in shoe making, the raw materials, the types of constructions and avoiding unnecessary components such as harmful adhesives and chemicals are important concerns for Po-Zu. These are often ignored in the regulatory vacuums of cost-conscious developing countries eager to attract inward foreign investment. As Sven Segal said, the most challenging part of the business
“Being commercially competitive without compromising our eco-credentials and quality”.
Like many Beautiful Businesses, Po-Zu is careful and considerate about the type and amount of resources they use. As stated on their website, their carefully selected ingredients are:
Foot mattress is made from coconut-based coir, in different densities. Coir is a mixture of 60% coconut husk and 40% natural latex.
Produced from the bark of the Cork Oak tree (Quecus Suber), which grows locally in Portugal where they produce their shoes. The harvesting of cork does not harm the tree and a new layer of cork re-grows, making it a renewable resource.
Organically-grown, and unbleached. Po-Zu uses low-impact dyes, free from heavy metals. Hemp is naturally hypoallergenic, mould resistant, and stops bacteria growth, and it’s probably the most environmentally-friendly crop for textile production.
Used in both mattresses and soles. Pure vegetable rubber made from the milky sap of the Lectae hevea tree. The latex used in their soles is approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
All wool articles are made from pure 100% un-bleached wool, and in many cases un-dyed. Grey, for example, is a mix of white, brown and black natural sheep wool.
Organically tanned with vegetable extracts from the bark of Mimosa and Quebracho trees. The leather is tanned organically, and has a long list of benefits to the wearer.
Here is an example of one of their vegan shoes from their new spring collection called Brasque, to demonstrate their care and concern for the way their shoes are made and the materials they use;
Organic cotton with natural cork.
Both of which are unbleached, with low-impact dyes.
Unbleached & un-dyed
60% Coconut Husk, 40% Natural Latex
Moulds to your foot shape
Highly breathable to keep your feet dry
Provides good insulation
With Butterfly Suspension Mechanism
Po-Zu manages to combine contemporary design, desirability and consideration towards people and the world’s resources. Made with care and mindful of impacts, Po-Zu is a beautiful business. The pressure is on businesses to change. Lets hope that others in the footwear industry follow their good example and make a positive change…jumping in with both feet!