African Handmade Shoes

African Handmade Shoes” is a start-up created by one young guy, Paul Burggraf, from Lugano in 2013.The company fairly employs thirty shoemakers from Cape Town, South Africa, to produce shoes (espadrilles) sold worldwide. It is an innovative project as well as a supportive business idea that creates a bridge between South Africa and Ticino, Switzerland.

The idea is very simple: producing handmade shoes in Africa and sell them online in Switzerland and worldwide. In addition, the project is characterized by an ethical attitude that provides fair wages and optimal operating conditions for the thirty artisans working in the Cape Town laboratory, differentiating it from other shoe manufacturers who exploit their workers through poor working conditions and with low wages. Nevertheless, “African Handmade Shoes” are fully aware of these problems and they are ready to make the difference.

In 2007, Paul Burggraf made his first of many trips to South Africa. Since then, he has fallen in love with South Africa – a colourful country, incredible, so full of potential.
The idea of “African Made Shoes” was born through meeting Arnold – a young South African craftsman who ran a small shoe shop. Paul was immediately interested and impressed by his work and his products. He realized there was serious potential for fashion export. Thus “African Handmade Shoes” was born.

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They started with a Facebook page collecting orders and received good feedback. They subsequently figured out the brilliance of their idea. They now have a thirty-man strong workshop in Cape Town, a website through which the product reaches around the world and a logistics base in Ticino: https://africanhandmadeshoes.com/.

The main sales channel is e-commerce, however, it is also possible to find temporary stores during festivals and events such as the “Locarno Film Festival” and so on. Currently there are a few stores in Ticino and Switzerland, it is even in the most prestigious Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich.

Transparency and fairness are very important; in spite of the few resources available,
social media has been key to make them known. Through these channels they have decided to completely document what was going on in the workshop of Cape Town. In short, the complete manufacturing process is documented for final consumers to see.
Pride in their craftsmanship, dignity and self-worth in their employees, respect for workers, earn a living wage, multicultural and happiness are values important for the brand. Workers are simply local people, they are friends and they are also neighbors.
Trusting workers is important to get maximum quality for the final product.
They have also helped to maintain a trade, that of the shoemaker, which globally is disappearing. Those who learn this profession with them can support themselves in the future. In the African social reality, in which education and apprenticeship training are lacking, giving people a future by learning a job is a huge added value.

Finally, they believe in African culture as well as the promotion and growth of the African economy. Therefore, the company is conducting a competition for local entrepreneurs called “Startaboom”: Three projects of local entrepreneurs are presented on the website of “African Handmade Shoes”. The public chooses what business will get financial support by voting on the website. The entrepreneur who receive the most votes will get the 10% of 2015 profit of “African Handmade Shoes” in order to help the project grow.

The success of “African handmade Shoes” is very simple: The colours and fabrics of these shoes make a product with a long cultural history, tradition known globally. Companies like these show us that business does not have to about profits only, but can be economically successful by helping to solve social problems and making people in Switzerland and South Africa proud of what they do.

Here a few links for more information:

Video presentation
Founder speech about local entrepreneurs (new start-up)
One of the three local entrepreneurs

Author: Riccardo Bonfitto, Master in International Business student, 2016

Jeff Yokoyama: Surf dude turned Fashion Revolutionary

Jeff Yokoyama operates a small shop called the “Yokishop” in Newport beach, California. Jeff has been designing and selling clothing made from recycled materials for a long time. He has also in the past had several successful clothing companies including Maui & Sons and Pirate Surf.

Jeff has been expanding his efforts to create a supply chain for recycled clothing. Since 2009 he has had a partnership with the athletics department of USC (University of Southern California) and UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Jeff initiated this in reaction to how he saw his daughter, who played volleyball in college, received new athletic clothing items every year which she would later throw out.

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Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year. Jeff’s experience in the apparel sector made him reflect on how he treated people and what he truly valued, he states when speaking to the Surftorialist (2014): “The moment I knew I was out of it was when I came home and I had everything. I had the right bachelor pad, the right car, the right music, everything was right. The right clothes all lined up in the closet, the right suits, everything. And I then decided that all of this didn’t mean anything. I bawled my eyes out that night. I said ‘I don’t need any of this’”.

Shirt with recycled upside down Levi pocket from Yoki’s GARDEN LEVIS clothing line. There is an abundance of Levi’s in American landfills. He uses this clothing line to show that cool things can be made from old stuff.

Jeff made a transition from the “cool/hip” look (Maui & Sons, Pirate Surf) to a more specific niche of creating clothing from recycled materials. The motto for the Yokishop is: “Design different. Make different. Sell different”.

Now Jeff buys used athletic clothing by the pound from USC and pays a 15% royalty fee for every repurposed item of theirs he sells. He only pays $2 out of pocket to make a $200 sweater. Ethically it could be challenged that the price he sets for his clothing items makes his message is anything but anti-consumerist. However it can more accurately be said that his profit margin is necessary considering that he is an independent shop owner, who hires 5 people. His clothes are not all 100% recycled, he also gets newly manufactured t-shirts from a factory in California.

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Jeff Yokoyama at work in the Yokishop. by: Michel Light

Jeff Yokoyama has a story which highlights the fundamental factors for personal change. Change in regards to turning words and deeds into concrete actions. He learned from his personal struggles, such as the bankruptcy of Maui & Sons. A more fulfilled life requires doing something that truly helps the world and others, so while he is not running an $18 million business as before, his work is more enriching. He is showing just how cool you can make old and used clothes.

Author: Siale Comissario, Master in International Business, class of 2015-16

Brazilian Fashion Revolutionary: Oskar Metsavaht and Osklen

Oskar Metsavaht founded Osklen in 1990, selling winter sportswear and after 10 years changed the brand’s focus to the luxury segment, today the brand is recognized as one of Brazil’s biggest luxury fashion brands. Oskar Metsavaht realized the importance of sustainable development and its applications since the Earth Summit twenty years ago in Rio, seeking to incorporate sustainability in different ways into his work at Osklen.

Osklen not only promotes the sustainability issues through its campaigns, such as a recent winter collection, called A21 which concerns the Agenda 21, a voluntary action plan of the United Nations. The brand also apply sustainable decisions on the production by using organic cotton and recycled material, for instance PET, used in fibers for shirts and Pirarucu fish skin used for bags and shoes. Other interesting point is that Osklen produce their clothes using mostly materials from Brazil, moreover the brand focuses the production inside Brazil, something that is good for the economy of the country.

Metsavaht also founded the Instituto-E, an OSCIP (Civil Society Organization of Public Interest), based in Brazil to foster sustainable human development, Oskar Metsavaht was named in 2012, by UNESCO, Goodwill Ambassador and moreover a formal representative of Rio + 20. Osklen, Instituto-E and the Ethical Fashion Initiative worked together developing products in Haiti, the first collection was called E-Ayiti, launched in 2014 and all production was made by Haitian artisans in partnership with Osklen designers using only recycled materials like electrical wiring and metal.

The work of Oskar Metsavaht and the impact that Osklen has brought to the fashion industry has a huge importance, the world needs more inspiring people like him to disseminate the importance of sustainability and responsibility in the fashion industry and spreading this example of sustainable development it helps to build a sustainable fashion industry.

Author: Pedro Gomes, Master in International and Sustainable Finance, class of 2015-16

Fashion Revolutionaries: Vivienne Westwood

I wanted to find out more about the infamous fashion revolutionary Vivienne Westwood, I was able to interview Félicie Pythoud, an intern designer at Vivienne Westwood. Félicie explains that she mainly modifies and copies pattern.

Concerning her thoughts about the current situation of the fashion system and if she experiences the negative impact of the system inside the company, she comments[1]:

“I think today more and more people are aware about how terrible the situation is but not that many are really trying to change something.”

She says that, as a young designer, you have to be “sustainability-oriented” to be trendy, but the main actors are not ready to look at this reality. Unfortunately, as soon as money comes into play, the rest loses its importance. Some people are also afraid, because going against the system could be dangerous for their image and their career. She thinks that it is a lost battle in a way. Westwood makes a point of being an eco-friendly company.

To the question how Vivienne Westwood treats the production process and supply chains, she answers:

“What I can say is that most of the Westwood products are made in Italy and in England. But certain details where specific manufacturing processes are required are produced abroad.”

When asked about what they are doing to improve the fashion system, and what is their main focus:

“the most important is the sustainability.” Most of the materials used in the office and production are recycled or reused. The VW packages are recycled. Furthermore, she points out that at the beginning of the Westwood, the pattern-cutters found easy patterns to place on the fabric in order to save material. That is the reason why one of the most famous Westwood piece is the “square t-shirt” simply made up of two fabric squares! “

When asked if Félicie feels empowered by the company to drive change in the fashion system, she replies:

“No, but I think Westwood has important influence on the fashion world but acts as if it wasn’t aware of it. Vivienne herself is very politically engaged, however it is more about climate change and protecting animals than changes in the fashion system.”

These changes are complex and require collaborative solutions to transform old ways of doing business. Even Vivienne Westwood who claims to be sustainable, seems not to be really committed to sustainability in the fashion system and its supply chain. The Guardian newspaper: “a more sustainable supply chain is needed, but will only emerge when the breakdown in trust between suppliers and buyers is resolved”.

Author: Ayrton Peron de Castro, Master in International and Sustainable Finance, class of 2015-16

[1] These are Felicie’s opinions and do not reflect those of the company she works for.