Unless you have been in hiding for the last few years, you should by now realise that we are facing an environmental crisis. People really woke up after Sir David Attenborough rocked the world with his dulcet tones and his incredibly inspiring Blue Planet. It is brilliant to see he is at it again with his new series; Seven Worlds, One planet.
Thanks to these sorts of awareness campaigns we know we need to do what we can to protect our planet, but for many dramatic changes can be daunting as we have got into the habit of following convenience. That is why, where possible, we want to champion innovations, like we did with Sipple, that play a part in providing solutions to the problems. I emphasise ‘play a part’ as no one solution solves this monumental problem. Only a combined effort and shift in behaviour will have notable impact.
WAES is a brilliant start up that is aiming to disrupt the shoe market by showing it is possible to produce high quality shoes that are completely plastic free. They are currently doing incredibly well crowdfunding on Kickstarter which you can get behind here. The company was started by our friend Ed Temperley, who’s words you will have likely read in the past, as the longest standing editor of Magicseaweed.
Inspired by protecting his playground, the ocean, Ed moved on from telling stories around surf and has been working hard for the last few years to create something truly special and we caught up with him to find out more…
Could you tell me about the idea behind WAES and why you decided to start it?
It seemed like a good idea at the time [laughs]. But more seriously, we wanted to create a shoe brand with a pure DNA, one which had as few compromises as possible. Obviously we are not perfect, far from it, but with this project we’ve made the shoes we think should be made without any shortcuts.
Our ocean is beset by problems, plastic, climate change and over-fishing to name but a few. And we wanted to create a brand which helped in some tiny way, which was carbon neutral, helped restore habitats, remove ocean plastic and most importantly didn’t create more impossible to recycle nasty cheap stuff.
The brand itself is founded around the simple idea of being 100% natural and WAES itself stands for Water Air, Earth and Sun with the logo being a variation on the alchemy symbol for earth. It’s a play on the classical elements of earth, water, air, fire but related to our natural environment. Pronounced ‘ways’ it also stands for doing things in a different… way.
It sounds like we put more thought into than we did, and if we had thought about for a while, then we’d have realised no one is ever going to be able to spell it first time without help. Probably not ideal for a new brand.
Damian and I (co-founder) were also pretty fed-up with working for companies who couldn’t care less about the ocean or the environment, but who used a little eco chat to sell their fast fashion goods. No-one needs a cheaply produced shoe enough for it to be worth the roof collapsing on the person who produced it, or the fires at Rana Plaza.
And I do believe presented with that choice in a shop no consumer would accept the true cost of fast fashion. But corporations are allowed to separate the true cost of production from the means of production and fill the resulting hole in the middle with advertising. And that bloated centre is responsible for horrific working conditions, huge waste and pollution, and of course our major threat climate collapse. Why? Because they have no soul. And generic as that might sound, it is possible to be a good business.
How has your relationship with surfing fed into the inception and development of the business?
As a surfer, working at MSW, and also working with inspiring organisations like Surfers Against Sewage you are keenly aware of the health of our oceans and it’s really in our oceans and on our beaches that the plastics bell was tolling long before it hit the mainstream consciousness.
Of course we are part of the problem, we are all part of the problem. We are all aware of the irony that for decades we surfers have been travelling around on planes with our polyester surfboards, petroleum wax and toxic sunscreen to deposit on pristine reefs. And whilst we were amongst the first to see how much plastic was accumulating into the most remote places we don’t stop travelling and when a board is broken how often would it be reused?
So yeah as surfers we have to be uniquely connected to both the issues around the production of disposable petroleum based products and our role in perpetuating them. I surfed recently with a wooden surfboard manufacturer who was riding a PU board, why? Because it was better to use for those particular conditions, and as surfers we need that performance, and that goes for all product design. Ethics and morals won’t fix anything as no one really buys on drivers, rather we have to design usable solutions which are as good as the ones we are aiming to replace.
With a background in the surf industry have you reached out to other brands and organisations in search of partnerships?
I think that’s the best thing about running a new company is that you are free to reach out to people you’ve worked with and admired before and offer then a partnership which helps you both.
We have always loved the work done by Surfers Against Sewage in terms of removing plastic from our oceans, and campaigning to stop it at source, which is obviously something really close to our hearts. But also we’ve partnered-up with the Sea Trees initiative (which means we plant a mangrove tree for every pair of shoes sold) to make sure we are carbon neutral and to also give something back to the ocean in terms of habitat creation.
Mangrove trees are unique within the already awesome world of trees as they don’t just take in the carbon and sequester it in their wood like a ‘normal’ tree, but instead suck up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and trap them via their roots in flooded soils for millennia. Estimates vary but they are something like between 5 and 10 times as effective as a rainforest tree.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Product creation and not accepting any compromises around materials. This leads into price and not wanting to create a product which was out of reach for most people. And the only place we can take the hit is our margin, so it’s a good thing we are modest people and have low overheads.
But fundamentally we have to accept that we are a business and if it was easy to produce sneakers with high end materials at a small scale and make them cheaply then we’d be magicians. So price is probably our biggest challenge as even though we have a brilliant relationship with the factory in Porto, and a strong history of sourcing and knowledge of supply chain and cobbling – our sneakers still cost as much to produce as an average pair costs in the shops to buy at RRP.
What have been your biggest achievements to date?
Making the shoes and that a few hundred wonderful people have parted with some cash since we launched on October 2. That’s proved the concept is viable to me and now we have our handholds in the rock I’m confident we can keep on climbing.
Also we’ve just this week been shortlisted for the Plastic-Free Awards in the Plastic Production Re-Innovation category alongside another brand you’ll know, Flexi Hex, who are doing awesome stuff with removing plastic from surfboard packaging. Considering we’ve only been around for a short space of time this means a heck of a lot to our team.
This is the first year the awards have run and they have been created to: “celebrate the plastic-free movement, recognising inspirational local community champions, innovators, campaigners and other leaders across the UK.” Again pretty heady stuff for our little brand.
It’s just a great way of preordering shoes, that is if you can convince people to wait for a couple of months before their goods will arrive. Fundamentally it provides creators with a brilliant pre-order process and an extended lead time, which in turn allows you to start to produce at scale from day one.
Where we differ is that often the production button is only pushed once the funding period is complete, but our process is a lot faster and are already deep into the production of our shoes now we can see people are committed to buying them. And so if we don’t have stock before Christmas we’ll eat our 100% biodegradable soles – which isn’t half as bad for you as most shoes.
How is your crowdfunding campaign going?
Thanks for asking… We were fully funded in a week and at the time of writing had got to 150% with 11 days to go, and now we’d love to get a few more orders to give us a strong starting point.
It’s been amazing and we owe a huge debt of thanks to everyone who has supported us in getting to this point.
What do you hope to achieve with the business in the future?
Change is coming, because it has to, and after all we are an incredibly resourceful species with a talent for survival. Within that change we’s love to be one tiny cog in the zero-waste movement. I’d like to look back at these years as the timeframe in which manufacturers started to realise en-masse that it was in their interests to reimagine their production.
I’m a believer in small capitalism and do believe capping the size of companies and the ability of large organisations to dominate industries would make for a more honest and cooperative corporate world.
And personally we’d like to have a modest business which ran itself for the benefit of the environment and all employees so we could surf and get outside every day, whilst we can still stand-up on a board. I want to surf with my kids in clean water, I want to sit on the beach and enjoy how lucky we are to be part of the surfing community.
You’re tackling one part of a much larger environmental issue. Do you think in the future individuals and companies coming up with design innovations like this are the way that big environmental issues are going to be solved?
I’m so excited by the materials which are being developed. We have a big challenge in leather and we thought there was little chance of fixing that in a way we were happy from a compostable perspective in the near future. All current vegan leathers are fundamentally matrices of plastic and organic matter which are single use by design impossible to ever recycle. But there is hope on the horizon and like an approaching set we are scratching for it.
Do you have the chance to meet lots of fellow business owners with innovative ideas designed to reduce waste and combat the environmental issues of the day? If so, are there any other particularly exciting things you’ve come across you’d like to share with our readers?
Oh there are so many individuals out there doing amazing things, people so talented and capable it makes you want to hug them and then slink off into the corner where you belong. One guy we love, is Dave Hieatt from Hiut Denim, he been a great source of advice for us and we can’t recommend signing-up his inspirational DO Lectures.
Also read Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart and William McDonough.
Lastly, obviously there are a huge amount of ways we can all live a more environmentally friendly life but for some dramatic change is daunting. What would be your 3 best tips for simple changes that collectively can have a big impact?
It seems obvious, and my much more organised wife will be spitting into her reusable coffee cup with laughter. But number 1 is thinking: what you are going to do before you leave the house today? Will I need a bag or a bottle? Particularly food, have a think about it, plan your days and you’ll eat better, cheaper, and remove the temptation of disposable convenience.
Number 2 and 3 is we vote with every interaction you make, with every Pound, Dollar and cent, move those transactions into the right businesses as we are driving the wheels of commerce and every spend you make does matter, every choice matters.
Large consumer businesses are slow moving beasts terrified of becoming irrelevant. You might have sat around those boardroom tables where there is no mention of anything but targets and consumer tastes and it’s our habits which dictate that conversation.
I hope that companies which stand for nothing apart from meeting the earnings for the next quarter are going to become deeply unfashionable really quickly and we can all help to make that happen.
We hope this has given you a good insight into the inspiration behind WAES. We have backed their Kickstarter campaign and cant wait to get our feet into these good looking sustainable beauties. Here is link to get your hands on a pair…