Shoes Good Enough to Eat: nat-2™
Last week Beyond the Label held a sustainable fashion event in Santa Monica. An attendee raised her hand at the end of the expert panel to ask a question about ‘vegan’ shoes. While there is no clear legal definition as to what ‘vegan’ means or any of the other popular words in sustainable fashion, including ‘sustainable’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’, etc., we choose to use ‘cruelty-free’ instead of ‘vegan’. The attendee asked if cruelty-free shoes were more or less sustainable than leather ones, since they are often made out of plastic “and can’t be made out of food or they would just fall apart.” Luckily, Madison’s Founder, Kristine Upesleja was there to set the record straight and share a few examples of just how innovative sustainable fashion has become. A couple of those examples come from German shoe brand nat-2™. The company focuses on innovation and quality to bring truly unique products to their customers. Their newest endeavor? A“fungi-line” of sneakers and corn-based boots.
Each nat-2™ product is designed by the founder and creator Sebastian Thies. Based in Munich, Thies started nat-2™ in 2009 and has been pioneering innovative footwear ever since. The brand produces shoes made out of unthinkable materials such as coffee, mushrooms, and now corn. nat-2™’s “fungus-line” features a pair of sneakers which very much resembles a suede Nike shoe. The smooth “mushroom leather” is created using a specific type of fungus which is a parasite found growing on dead or weak birches. The brand’s website further describes the shoes’ sustainable materials:
[The shoes are] made from tree fungus in combination with high quality, innovative materials such as eco-cotton frottee, microfiber suede from recycled PET bottles, real cork insoles and real rubber outsoles.
Each pair is chemical-free and created with mushroom which is sustainably harvested through a very gentle process. This mushroom leather is eco-friendly through and through. If mushroom-based footwear wasn’t enough there’s now a new nat-2™ item to sink your teeth into. Thies and his team are pushing the envelope even further with their rain boots made from recycled corn. Through the online magazine designboom®, the company explained the story behind the boots’ materials: ‘Only corn which cannot be used for food anymore is used and meant to offer an all-new alternative material.’ The footwear company is committed to sustainable practices and utilizing materials which are not only natural but are in need of a second life. The fungus-based sneakers keep parasites out of nature, and the corn-based boots keep food waste from piling up.
While all of nat-2™’s products are made of incredibly innovative materials, it’s important to dive into the style and visual appeal of each pair because, at the end of the day, they have to sell. As mentioned before, the mushroom sneakers do actually resemble a widely popular type of shoe– that of big name brand Nike, or even Vans. nat-2™ describes this pair as having a "vintage look" and while that may be true with the texture and color, the design is very modern. The big difference between mainstream shoe and Theis's eco-friendly designs, besides the obvious, is that natural materials cannot produce the vibrant colors that we see in fast fashion. Neons are usually not found in nature! This is most obvious in the company’s corn boots. The shoes look as if they have been put through the wringer on a farm. The look is certainly not inherently bad but it does narrow down the customer base for this particular product. City dwellers who crave a sleek or semi-fashionable rain boot won’t be able to find that in this shoe. A definite pro for the recycled corn rain boot is that any dirt or muddy water will instantly blend in!
So what do you think? Would you wear these shoes?