Collective Canvas’ Founder Oscar Explains How The Label’s Sustainable Sneakers Are Made

by: Well Made Clothes Staff | 1 month ago | Features

Image: Collective Canvas sneakers looking pretty great.

Sustainable sneakers are an anomaly in the sneaker world, which is why we’re so proud to stock Collective Canvas. The New Zealand-based label makes all of its sneakers in a transparent supply chain from sustainable materials including organic cotton and natural rubber, and also uses biodegradable materials everywhere it can to ensure its sneakers have a responsible end of life.

Here, Collective Canvas’ founder, Oscar, explains his history in the footwear industry, the design and production considerations of sustainable sneakers, and his biggest concerns about the conventional footwear industry.

Well Made Clothes: Can you tell us a little bit about your history in the footwear industry?

Oscar Anselmi: My background is in footwear – my family history in the industry spans back four decades – so in a sense I’d grown up surrounded by shoes my entire life.

WMC: What made you want to create your own sneaker label?

Oscar: Throughout my 20s I worked in and around the industry in various roles, and had the opportunity to learn a lot about how shoes are made (and the wide variety of conditions they’re made under). Over time I began to grow frustrated with certain elements of the modern footwear industry, namely its extremely fast-paced, trend-driven nature. In my eyes this need for constant newness came at the expense of long term thinking and end-of-life considerations for the products I was seeing. I wanted to create something that felt both timeless and modern, with full consideration to the materials that we were using, who was making them, and the impact they’d have through their entire life cycle.

WMC: Why was using sustainable materials important to you?

Oscar: Shoes are typically quite complicated to construct (which makes them difficult to recycle), and are seen as consumable items, meaning that sadly the vast majority will likely make their way into a landfill at the end of their life. I felt like if we were going to put more products into the world, I wanted to make sure they were made in a way so as to minimise the impact they’d have, both on the environment, and on the people that were tasked with making them.

WMC: Using sustainable materials for footwear is an anomaly in the fashion industry. How did you go about developing Collective Canvas products considering it’s not done that much in the fashion industry?

Oscar: My background gave me the opportunity to spend a good amount of time working in shoe factories, so I had a thorough understanding of each individual component that went into a pair of sneakers. It was really just a matter of working systematically from largest input to smallest and doing my best to source sustainable and natural alternatives, while also considering what was absolutely necessary from a design perspective.

WMC: What challenges did you face designing and developing a sustainable sneaker?

Oscar: Like any small brand starting out, one of the biggest hurdles was having suppliers take you seriously when you have nothing to show them - it takes time to build relationships and trust.

When it comes to materials, everything involves a degree of compromise and judgement - often there’s no perfect solution, so it’s really a matter of weighing up the pros and cons of each choice. From the outset I wanted to minimise the use of synthetic materials as much as possible, so that was always top of mind.

WMC: You use organic cotton for the uppers, but you use sustainable materials in other parts of your sneakers, too. Can you walk us through these and why you chose them?

Oscar: Sure, in addition to our uppers being 100% organic cotton, our laces are as well. Our insoles are partially made from renewable castor bean oil and recycled rubber, and covered with natural cork, which is in itself a naturally renewable natural material - the cork bark is harvested without damaging the trees - and has the added benefits of repelling moisture, so it keeps your feet dryer than typical canvas or synthetic insoles. For stiffeners (the parts that keep the heel and toe from collapsing) we use recycled off-cuts of rubber from our soles. The rubber that we use in our soles and sidewalls is the trickiest part of our material list at this stage - we use a high percentage of natural latex rubber in our sneakers, however we’ll be the first to admit that we’ve still got room to improve here. Natural rubber is inherently much more biodegradable than synthetic rubber, however it still takes years to break down in landfill. Because of this, we’re working to find a better solution to repurpose this part of our sneakers - ideally to introduce a returns program that repurposes the soles into something like roading or playground matting.

WMC: There are many problems in the mainstream fashion industry broadly, but I’m interested in the problems you see in the sneaker industry more specifically. What are your major concerns with the mainstream sneaker industry?

Oscar: My main concern is that it doesn’t really feel like change is happening at a quick enough pace. Of everything we wear, footwear has the highest carbon footprint (sorry), and the vast majority are still made from a complicated mix of synthetic materials, making recyclability far more difficult than it needs to be. In addition, there’s still little concern placed on the end of life considerations for most of what’s on the market at the moment.

WMC: And how do you think labels and customers need to help tackle these?

Oscar: For brands, slow down and rethink the impact they’re having by continuing in the way they have been for so long. Rethink the materials they’re using and how they’re constructing the products they’re putting out into the world, and put more thought into what happens after you’ve sold them and after the consumer’s done with them. For customers, demand more transparency from the brands you’re buying from, and vote with your wallet - where you spend your money is one of the most powerful tools you have to effect change.

WMC: You just released the Vier sneaker. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind it?

Oscar: Like all our styles, I wanted to create something that was modern yet timeless. I grew up in canvas sneakers - I'll always love the classic Chuck Taylor - and really love the simplicity and timelessness of all those classic and forgotten tennis and basketball sneakers of the 60s and 70s, before things got so technical.

WMC: What do the next couple of years look like for Collective Canvas?

Oscar: New materials, new styles, continued improvement in the products we’re making and how we’re doing business. We’re also working to introduce a returns program later this year which will allow customers to send their sneakers back to us to be properly broken down and disposed of responsibly - watch this space.

Shop Collective Canvas here.


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