It all started in 2014 at Urban Vintagers, a secondhand store in the city of Porto Alegre, in the southern tip of Brazil. Pam Magpali, then CEO of the now extinct eco-friendly shoe label MAG-P Shoes, couldn’t help but notice the pile of clothes that the store’s owner, Barbara Mattivy, had put aside for repair. She fell in love with the prints and asked Mattivy to let her use the fabrics to make shoes instead. Today, the duo is behind Insecta Shoes, a rising vegan footwear label which earned 2.8 million reais (approximately 700,000 US dollars or 55,000 pounds) in 2018 and expects a 30 percent growth in 2019.
Self-proclaimed “ecosexy”, Insecta Shoes aims to unite ethics and aesthetics: in addition to secondhand clothing, the company uses recycled PET bottles, cotton and cardboard, as well as industrial rubber waste to make its colorful shoes, which are affectionately nicknamed “beetles” in the brand’s messaging. Having produced over 28,000 shoes in the last five years, the company has reused over 2,194 meters (7198 feet) of fabric and recycled over 900 kilograms (1984 pounds) of cotton, 21,000 PET bottles, 1,560 cardboard boxes and 6,600 kilograms (14,450 pounds) of rubber. All shoes are manufactured locally, and Insecta makes sure to only work with factories that provide all contributors with formal contracts and a fair living wage. All but one of its 16 employees are women, and the company mentions feminism as one of its core values.
What started as an online enterprise soon moved to brick and mortar retail. Insecta Shoes currently operates two stores in Porto Alegre and São Paulo, but its shoes are also sold by ten multi-brand retailers in Minas Gerais (Brazil), New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Berlin, Barcelona and Paris. Now, the company wants to strengthen its position in the North American market with the launch of a dedicated e-commerce (shopinsecta.com) and a distribution center in North America. Barbara Mattivy has also just moved to Canada. FashionUnited spoke to her to learn more about the brand.
What were the main challenges you and Pam faced when starting the brand?
We didn’t do much business planning, marketing or production in the beginning, we started the brand with a very low initial investment because we were looking to minimize risk and understand whether the market would accept a vegan shoe brand with such bold, colorful prints. After all, that was a completely new idea! Fortunately, things went very well, but we delayed our growth a little bit because we were learning from experience and from our mistakes, rather than having planned and researched beforehand -- which is not bad, it's just a less conventional way of doing things.
Insecta Shoes started by making shoes from secondhand clothes. Now, the company also uses recycled polyester. Tell us a little bit about the decision to expand the brand’s offering and material range.
It would be very difficult to scale up the business by only using vintage clothing. One dress allows us to make five shoes, no more. On the one hand, that’s good because it makes our shoes unique and exclusive, but on the other hand many clients would get upset because they couldn’t find their favorite shoe in their size. Using fabric from recycled plastic bottles is the equally sustainable alternative we found to offer a complete range for our customers. But the “vintage” line still exists, with extremely limited capsule collections, for those who enjoy buying something exclusive.
Insecta started as an online player but soon moved from clicks to bricks, with two shops in Brazil. Why did you make that decision?
I believe in an omnichannel strategy, because e-commerce and physical stores complement each other, especially when it comes to footwear. Many people still prefer to try the shoes on before committing to a purchase, they want to see if the shoe is really comfortable. Brick and mortar stores also allow us to get closer to our customers by organizing special events, which helps us to raise awareness about the environmental issues we care about.
Does Insecta intend to open more stores in the future?
We’re planning on opening one more store in São Paulo this year and maybe another one in Rio de Janeiro later on.
”All trash is a design failure”
What makes Insecta’s “beetle” more sustainable than the average shoe in the market?
We do our best to rework and repurpose materials that would otherwise go to the trash. We’re one of the few brands that care about each detail in the shoe. The fabrics we use are always upcycled, the sole is made from recycled rubber, the insole is made with surplus fabric of our own production… Even the sewing thread we use is made of recycled PET bottles. Additionally, Insecta has a reversed logistics solution: when customers no longer wants to wear the shoes, they can return them to the store so we can recycle them correctly and avoid generating more waste in the world. We strongly believe that all trash is a design failure.
What are the main challenges of making vegan shoes?
It’s very hard to find vegan, eco-friendly materials that resemble leather.
Insecta mentions transparency as one of its core values. What does it do, in terms of transparency, that other companies usually don’t?
We publicize costs and nurture a dialogue-based relationship with our clients. Every Tuesday is “Transparency Day” on our Instagram stories, when people can send us their questions and we answer them.
Photos: Insecta Shoes Facebook