Meet Po-Zu: the London-based sustainable footwear brand ranked the No. 1 Ethical Shoe Brand by The Ethical Company Organisation for the 12th consecutive year.
Launched in 2006 by footwear designer, Sven Segal, it is Po-Zu’s mission to provide feet with unique respite and to halt the damage that modern footwear manufacturing often causes to people and planet. Po-Zu have also collaborated with Disney and Lucasfilm on an officially licensed Star WarsTM collection of sneaker and boots. We caught up with Sven to talk about all things sustainable fashion.
What kickstarted the creation of Po-Zu?
Po-Zu: It all began many years ago when I working in mainstream footwear. It was the outcome of discovering the dark side of the shoe industry during the course of working as a shoe designer for mainstream brands.
The unnecessary extensive use of harmful chemicals just for the sake of speeding up processes and increase profit are just horrendous. I couldn’t stand contributing towards those bad practices and had to start my own brand to make shoes the way I believe they should be made: with respect to factory workers and the environment.
Po-Zu means PAUSE in Japanese (as in pause fast fashion, chill out and slip into something more comfortable) and so is the logo based on an old Japanese crest. We launched with biodegradable house slippers because I thought that people would care most about avoiding toxic substances within their household. At one point, we even made compostable shoeboxes that doubled-up as seed-trays.
What are the challenges behind running an ethical and sustainable business?
Po-Zu: Sourcing sustainable materials a decade ago was like finding a needle in a haystack. Ensuring that ethical practice is sustained throughout the production line is a long iterative process with many bumps in the road. You need to be really focused on working in partnership with the people who make your shoes. It is as much about educating and working together to get to an end result as anything. Being under-resourced whilst competing in an extremely uneven playing field is pretty challenging.
What sustainable materials do Po-Zu use and where are they sourced from?
Po-Zu: We use Fair Trade natural rubber for our soles (as certified by the Fair Rubber Association) and coconut fibre for our Foot-Mattress - both of which are sourced in Sri Lanka. The Organic Cotton for our shoe uppers and linings are sourced from India, with our Linen, Wool and Cork come from the EU.
We also use some innovative vegan leather alternatives; Piñatex (pineapple leave fibre) is made in the Philippines and Cork from Portugal, nearby to our Portuguese factory. Cork is used in numerous parts of our shoes, like our insole as well as some of our shoe uppers, like the SNEAK Natural Cork. This past winter also saw the launch of our new Cork Runner sole, as seen on our PACE, CHE and our soon-to-be BERMUDA styles.
This came about because we challenged ourselves to design a sustainable alternative to the synthetic EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) midsoles commonly found in sneakers. After churning through quite a few prototypes we successfully constructed it from Portuguese Cork mixed with Natural Latex.
This means it is not only biodegradable and renewable but it provides a great bounce and insulation - plus, I love the fact that’s it’s a renewable resource!
What's next on the agenda for Po-Zu?
Po-Zu: 2019 is the release of the last Star Wars film in the current trilogy and it always generates a lot of amazing dialogue around our products. We love that the Star Wars community has warmed so much to the stories behind our shoes. Stay tuned for a few big film-based announcements there.
For Autumn Winter 2019, we will be introducing new bio-based Apple skin ‘vegan leather’. This vegan alternative is derived from the apple juice industry and grown organically in the Italian Alps. Not only is it highly breathable and durable, but it also diverts food waste.
What do you love about the most recent designs by Mayamiko
Po-Zu: We love to stand hand in hand with amazing pioneering fashion brands, especially Mayamiko. We think it is very rare to find such a creative, fun and playful brand with such a grounding in ethical production and sustainable design.
Having seen Mayamiko grow in depth and colour of collections it was a delight to see the styling and end result. Thoughtful, careful and considered design really can have an impact. Why should anyone expect anything less?