Bamboo. Sugarcane. Cork. These are not what we’d think of as traditional ingredients for sneakers, but they’re some of the core raw materials that Brazilian shoe brand Cariuma uses for its environmentally sustainable footwear. According to figures generated by an independent, third-party consultant, its new Ibi slip-on sneaker is the lowest-carbon-footprint sneaker ever.
On this week’s episode of World Changing Ideas, I speak to Cariuma’s cofounders, David Python and Fernando Porto, who talk about the sneaker-making process, where the sustainable materials come from, and why they’re unabashedly ready to “steal market share from the big guys.”
Cariuma’s signature shoe, the Ibi, was a finalist in the World Changing Ideas Consumer Products category in 2020; this year, it released a slip-on version of the shoe, which has a carbon footprint of 5.48 grams, according to an independent group commissioned by Cariuma to conduct a study. Where bio-based ingredients can’t yet be used, the necessary plastics and packaging are made from fully recycled materials.
On the podcast, they discuss how sustainable methods don’t mean they have to sacrifice performance or style. They chose bamboo because it’s strong, yet light and flexible, allowing for durability and movement. With regard to style, the Ibi’s shape is designed to be vintage and timeless, not driven by trends, meaning the company doesn’t have to rush to prepare for launch dates of seasonal lines.
Without the pressure of those trends, or “fashion sparks,” as they call them, they can keep iterating and perfecting their slim line, making it better and more environmentally friendly with each reprise. “It’s not a number for us to put on the wall,” Python says of the footprint figure. “It’s actually a number for us to go and beat again.”
Impactful change could be quicker, they say, if the big sneaker brands also committed to large-scale changes. But, absent that, they’re committing to doing it without them, and with the help of similar-minded shoe companies such as Swiss-based On. As consumers become more discerning buyers, they believe they can achieve the volume and simply take market share away from the giants. “The villains are not going to become the heroes,” Porto says. “In a way, the practices that the big guys were doing for the last decades is what inspired the customers to look for something different.”