The story behind Victor Lou

Making the shoe industry a zero-waste industry that leaves a more positive impact on people and the planet. That’s our mission. We are fed up with the mass-consumption society and decided to leave our mark on one of the biggest industries of this time.

Do you really need that new pair of shoes?

When we started in 2015, we couldn’t have foreseen what a huge process it is to bring a new shoe on the market. Especially a sustainable shoe. Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t know because it might have scared us. Neither of us has a fashion background, and we didn’t know a thing about the shoe industry, but we did feel a strong urge to create something sustainable. We were colleagues already and for work, we go to a lot of fairs. When we were at an internet fair in 2015 we realized how strong this urge was to make something beautiful and sustainable ourselves. We decided it should be a sneaker.

It’s insane to see how many shoes are produced every year and how many of them end up in the trash the exact same year.

We decided to go to Porto because we knew that’s the place where the shoe industry is big. At that time we visited around five factories, and we were amazed by what we saw. This industry is super old-fashioned and unorganized but at the same time, it’s absolutely massive. We could have just taken a shoe from the shelf in one of these factories and start selling it. However, we decided we wanted to make a change, especially now we saw how much crap there is produced on a huge scale. Can you imagine that there are 20 billion shoes produced every single year? So many people working on that, but guess where most of these shoes end up? Right, in incinerators to get burned, or at a dump. The more we knew about this big industry, the more we were driven to change something in the system. We are highly motivated to make people aware of the impact of their spending behavior and give them a sustainable alternative if it comes to buying the next pair of shoes. 

A lot of shoe manufacturers still don’t want to invest in sustainability.

Soon we came in contact with Charlotte. She is a shoe designer and values sustainability just as much as we do, so we were pleased that she wanted to be part of the team. She warned us that this would be a huge project and that just finding the right manufacturer would be a big challenge in itself. She was right. In Portugal, the five factories that we visited in 2015, didn’t want to invest in sustainability. The problem is that shoe factories are incredibly busy and you have to be lucky if they have space for you. They want to produce high volumes and are not looking to collaborate with a new company like ours, creating sustainable shoes on a smaller scale. 

It can’t be that difficult, right?

From Portugal, we decided to go to Spain and see how it works there. Quickly it became clear that in Spain they had trouble communicating transparently about the production process and being transparent is one of our values. How difficult can it be, right? Well, pretty difficult in Europe so we decided to look further and we went to India. We know this country doesn’t have a good reputation when it comes to working environmentally friendly, but we wanted to leave a positive impact. Our designer, Charlotte, went there for seven months to look for a leather tanner and build the relationships over there. She found a tanner who is specialized in making chrome-free leather. That’s unique in India (and even in Europe) and we knew this guy had the guts to try and change things. Most of the leather worldwide still has chrome in it, which is incredibly bad for the environment. Especially when you burn it, which happens with 70% of the shoes. 

So, the best option seemed to get the leather from India. However, this was easier said than done, since we faced a lot of local challenges and cultural differences in doing business over there. Besides that, the logistics weren’t really sustainable, so we decided to go back to the drawing board and started the sourcing process from scratch again. From there on Charlotte got in touch with a new manufacturer in Porto. A few years had gone by and in the meantime, this manufacturer decided to focus on sustainability. Pedro has a family business in Porto and knows the shoe industry and is pro-actively looking for more environmentally friendly solutions. That’s very different from most of the producers in Europe so it was an easy decision to start working with him. It’s perfect that we can keep the whole process within Europe since Pedro is working with chrome-free leather, too. And not even that, it’s even waste leather from the car industry. That’s a win! 

We are using chrome-free waste leather from the car industry.

For us, sustainability doesn’t mean just environmentally friendly. Sustainability comes back in everything we do. Working conditions, terms of employment, the production process, transport, fair prices, using sustainable products, being able to recycle or in the future maybe even compost. At this moment we choose a basic design for our first shoe. A design that fits all and is made of leather. This is a very conscious decision since leather lasts long and in our case, it’s even a waste product. 

In the meantime, we are already looking around for other good options. We want to stay conscious and critical of our decisions. Whether it comes to the choice of material or the production process and all facets of creating a shoe that leads to it being worn by the customer. At the moment we are planting trees to compensate for the transport that we make use of, but of course, in the future, we want to limit the transport. There will always be new challenges coming our way and that’s an exciting process, but for now, we are starting off with the most sustainable options. 

Fast fashion is madness! Every week a new shirt for 3,95.

When we started in 2015 we couldn’t have foreseen how difficult it is to be more sustainable in the shoe industry. It seems like you can just make a few adjustments in the system, but we learned that it doesn’t work like that. The shoe industry is extremely old-fashioned if it comes to doing business. However, we find it important that the consumer is aware of their impact, too. It’s easy to stand on the sideline and tell people how they should change the industry or how bad the footprint on the environment is, but you can have an impact as a consumer too. As we see it, the responsibility is for the biggest part on the producer but the consumer certainly has power. You, as a consumer, can decide what you want to invest your money in. Is it in fast fashion? Buying a new shirt every week and only pay 3,95, of which you know it puts a lot of pressure on the environment and the people working in the industry. Or do you want to invest in a business that actually wants to make a change? We are all in it together, and we can’t ignore the impact of this industry any longer. We see it as a challenge to make a fair product that is sustainable but also affordable so that more people can make a conscious decision. Of course, we could have been even more sustainable if we would produce the shoe back in the Netherlands, but then one pair of shoes would cost at least 300,- euros. It’s not a big market that we can serve with that, and we would have less impact. Everyone should be able to make a conscious decision. 

As a consumer, you want to do right. But what are your options?

On our website, we show the production process and price structure so that you as a consumer know what is up. We see it happening too often that people pay a high price for a product that is produced very cheaply. Consumers have the right to know where the money is going, otherwise, it’s impossible to make conscious decisions. That’s why transparency is so important for us. We want to serve our clients so that they know what they are up to. It’s the only way to make a change together. 

It certainly isn’t easy to be sustainable in this industry. But it’s not impossible!

Our goal is to change the shoe industry and make people more conscious of their spendings. It’s been a real struggle and challenge to get there, but we have a good feeling about it. Many times we have asked ourselves what the hell we were doing and if this would be worth it. But we know it is. We managed to create our own sustainable shoe and we really hope to inspire other entrepreneurs and designers to do the same thing. We don’t see this as a one-man show, but more as a movement. We have to change things together and we encourage everyone to come up with new ideas and support each other. We cleared the path a bit and everyone is welcome to join us from here on out.

From now on, whenever you want to buy a new pair of shoes, ask yourself; do I really need them? Yes? Go for a sustainable option. You are part of the change.