Photo via Terra Plana
The fashion industry as a whole may not have taken sustainability as far as we'd like, but at least shoe company Terra Plana makes it easier to keep your footwear green. CEO Galahad Clark—a seventh-generation shoemaker who took over the company from his father and re-launched it while starting two new lines—keeps eco-friendly practices at the top of his to-do list. Click through to see how.These days, Clark spends most of his time promoting the Vivo Barefoot, a shoe that mimics the feeling of not wearing a shoe at all—which he says stimulates all the nerve endings in your feet, increasing your overall health. But his passion for the Vivos sometimes conflicts with the rest of his job: turning out ethically-made boots, heels, flats, and pumps. "It's a challenge of conscience sometimes," he says, "but I console myself with the fact that people are never going to stop wearing sexy shoes and high heels—so if you spend as much of your life as possible barefoot, then you'll be more confident in your high heels."
But whether you're a high-heel lover or a barefoot convert, sometimes you just have to wear shoes. That's where Terra Plana's environmentally-friendly practices come in: the company uses recycled rubber, parachutes, and coats; rice husk soles and vegetable tanned leathers; and stitches instead of glue wherever possible. Each shoe is graded on the company's eco-matrix, which takes into account everything from the function and comfort to the end-of-life options, and styles that score too low are redesigned. In one case, Clark and his team took the company's best-selling heel—which scored too low on the eco-matrix—and swapped in more recycled materials while simplifying the production process to cut back on waste. In the end, the shoes are stylish, functional, and last for years. "The most un-eco-friendly thing you can do is make bad quality shoes," says Clark. "Millions and millions of shoes end up in the landfill every year."
But just because your shoes will last forever doesn't always mean that's how long you want to wear them, which is why the other part of the equation is making them, as Clark says, "emotionally durable." You'll fix your favorite pair of boots, just as you'll mend your favorite pair of jeans; a big part of greening your wardrobe by fixing what you have is investing in pieces that you like enough to fix in the first place. That's where Terra Plana differs from the fashion industry; "Labels create completely new collections every year, which is a tremendous waste," says Clark. "We try to find shoes that live on and have multi-season use." But since he knows tastes and styles do change, no matter how green you are, Clark is starting a recycling program through his company in England: Bring back your well-loved Terra Planas and you'll get a discount on a new pair. "End of life is such a problem for the shoe industry," he says. "In the end, the consumers really need to lead the revolution and demand more of the companies."
More about New York Fashion Week
New York Fashion Week: Summer Rayne Oakes' Eco-Fashion Forecast
New York Fashion Week: Designers Get Thrifty
FutureFashion: Fashion Week's Green Kickoff
New York Fashion Week: 5 Green Changes We'd Like to See
New York Fashion Week: Vegetable Dyes and Blessed Silk at Bodkin