Impact and Identity

Native Shoes Made Footwear Out of Plants

Words by Nicolle Hodges

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It’s a simple truth that if you put one foot in front of the other, you will get somewhere. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, our typical response consists largely of steps yet to be taken. But Vancouver-based shoe company Native has released a product that’s entirely plant-based, aptly revealing how fashion and activism can be symbiotic.

The Plant Shoe is 100% biodegradable, commercially compostable, made without chemicals or synthetic additives, and completely animal-free. The interior, for instance, is made from eucalyptus pulp; the toe tab is pineapple husk; the insole is a combination of corn and felted kenaf; and the thread is made of a coarse vegetable fiber called jute, which gets soaked in olive oil. Once the shoes eventually wear down from daily use, instead of being thrown in the garbage, they can be tossed into the compost bin and be taken to a commercial composting plant, where they will start to decompose after 45 days—thus returning to the earth from which they came.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to make a shoe completely out of plants?” Native cofounder and CEO Scott Hawthorn thought to himself many years ago. The company was founded in 2009, and while it has been using unique shoe manufacturing techniques for years, it was a domino effect of Hawthorn’s personal lifestyle changes that led to the idea of the Plant Shoe, beginning with the documentary Cowspiracy. “It opened my eyes to the impact of animal agriculture and landscape,” he says via phone. That reflection first led to forgoing meat, then to breaking his connection to leather goods, and finally, to fully committing to the path of least impact, which included taking a closer look at the potential for products that combined attraction and intention. Hence, the Plant Shoe was conceptualized.

“It is about leading with purpose by creating a designed item that you want to use,” he says. “We bring you an item that, if you didn't know the purpose, you might love it already—or you might be drawn to us because of the purpose, and through that we introduce you to design.”

It’s a loop that, a decade ago, might have barely enticed buyers. But today, remaining ignorant about our impact on the environment takes more work than recalibrating certain consumerist habits. “I think there is a movement happening now in this direction that allows this story and product to be presented,” says Hawthorn. “It’s timely now because environmental conversations are more significant. This is one way we allow people to be an activist.”

The irrefutable momentum of environmental degradation tipped Native towards the creation of a product that goes beyond the narrative of trepidation. With the invention of the Plant Shoe—the first of its kind on the market—the brand is inviting people to come forward and be part of progress.

“We put the flag on the moon with this,” he says. “In essence, it’s our declaration of where we want to see the world go. We need people to come along on that journey.”

That’s one giant step for mankind.