Circular economy

Vegan footwear start-up Insecta Shoes is all the buzz

Andrea Vialli Valor Econômico | Updated on March 10, 2018

Barbara Mattivy, from Insecta Shoes: "The concept of reducing the generation of waste and replacing materials with sustainable alternatives is in our essence". (Credit: Claudio Belli/Valor)

Insecta Shoes upcycles vintage clothing and plastic bootles into shoes. (Credit: Angelo Bonini)

Insecta Shoes recycles plastic bottles into shoes. The insoles are made from scraps of their production and the soles are recycled rubber from the shoe industry. (Credit: Angelo Bonini)

In 2015, Brazilian fashion lover Barbara Mattivy ran an online shop for vintage clothing and wondered what to do with pieces requiring alteration. Her friend Pamela Magpali, a footwear designer, suggested upcycling the fabrics to produce a vegan line of shoes. The friends made 30 pairs of shoes and put them online, where they sold out in just two days.

The duo quickly recognized a fantastic business opportunity and christened the brand Insecta Shoes to underline its nature-friendly focus, and with an investment of R$120,000 (about US$ 38,000) devoted themselves to product development.

Shoes were initially sold over the internet until positive feedback gave the company the impetus to open its first physical store — located in the city of Porto Alegre, close to the shoe industry hub of Rio Grande do Sul and its third-party manufacturers. In 2016, Insecta Shoes opened a second store in São Paulo.

At the same time, the company invested in improving its e-commerce. Its online store still represents 65 per cent of sales while offering a communication channel with consumers such as a blog that raises issues on conscious consumption, food, veganism and sustainability in fashion.

"Reducing waste production and replacing materials with sustainable alternatives is essential to what we do,'' Mattivy said.

No leather, wool or materials of animal origin is used to manufacture Insecta Shoes. Instead, the company sources environmentally friendly vegan materials like cotton fabric coated with natural latex manufactured from recycled PET bottles, or a plant-based laminate that imitates leather.

The shoes’ insoles are made from textile industry waste, while the outsoles come from upcycled rubber. The brand also tries to use threads, laces and eyelets that can be reused in the future. Designs are printed onto the fabric (made from PET bottles) using water-based pigments.

The fruits of this labor are boots, brogues, sandals and sneakers with an average price tag of R$280 (about US$ 89), as well as handbags and backpacks.

"The company was created for recycling second-hand clothes, but we needed to create new product lines to scale up our operations,'' commented Mattivy.

Ana Luiza Leal, 31, is one of the customers enchanted by both the quality of Insecta Shoes’ products and the concept of the brand. She entered one of their stores two years ago whilst on the lookout for ethical and comfortable shoes and believes that Insecta Shoes offers shoppers ethical fashion.

"We often buy clothes or shoes that may have been made with slave or child labor and we’re just not aware. As a consumer, I look for products where I can trace their origin and production history,” she said.

More than recycling, upcycling offers a creative solution for certain materials that would otherwise be thrown away. In two years of operation, Mattivy estimates that during the production of approximately 15,000 pairs of shoes, Insecta Shoes has upcycled 3,000 pieces of clothing, 900 kg of fabrics and 2,000 PET bottles.

The young company earned R$1.7 million (US$ 549,000) in 2016 and expects to grow by 50 per cent in 2017. Today Insecta shoes is run by three seniors (Magpali left the company in 2016) who manage a small team of seven employees.

The challenge for these 30-something- year-old entrepreneurs is to make sure their brand appeal is not limited to the vegan product niche, which remains restricted in Brazil.

Estimates show that there are 16 million vegetarians across the nation (there is no data on the number of vegans), and that the market for products targeted at this group is growing at around 40 per cent per year. The company has already started exporting shoes and has plans to expand outside of Brazil.

Mattivy believes that consumers need to be educated about more conscientious fashion options, since current trends are still rooted in the phenomenon of fast fashion, where the speed of production, consumption and disposal of textile items is extreme.

"Anyone who buys our products is at the top of the pyramid, in a bubble that does not represent the majority,'' she said.

Matiivy remains optimistic, "People have started to discuss the issue and I believe that, with time, attitudes will change.''

Published on October 27, 2017

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