New DTC toolkit   //   January 23, 2023

Canadian footwear brand Grounded People is leaning on scarcity and sustainability to market its first official collection

Grounded People, a Vancouver-based vegan footwear company, is launching its first official collection of shoes as customers and brands alike take more of an interest in sustainable fashion.

Grounded People’s São Paulo shoes, which went live on its website on Friday, come in two different styles (high-top and low-top) and two different colors (khaki and black). The laces and uppers are made from 100% recycled cotton. The sole of the khaki shoes is made from rubber from gum trees, while the sole of the black shoes is made from recycled car tires.

Grounded People released an initial batch of more than 1,500 pairs of shoes in North America back in 2021 for testing and market research purposes. After collecting feedback from clients, it tweaked the design to make the shoes more durable and added in additional components like metal. The rollout of its redesigned shoes comes days after Grounded People received $2.5 million from Right Season Investments Corp., a Canadian venture capital and advisory firm.

For this first launch, the brand is opting to use a scarcity model. Grounded People produces shoes almost entirely by hand and in small batches. It is creating 200 to 500 pairs of the São Paulo shoes in sizes 5 to 13, CEO Max Justus told Modern Retail. “We do listen to what our customers have to say,” he said. “If there are plenty of requests for an additional batch… to be released, we can explore those options once we get there.” Outside of the São Paulo collection, Grounded People plans to release more footwear styles and colorways, also in limited runs.

“We’re not mass producing shoes here,” Justus explained. “We’re doing everything slow fashion. We’re doing it the way that we think it should be done. And we’re hoping that other companies will do more, join us in that journey.”

Each pair of the shoes comes with a 5-year warranty. The high-tops sell for $229 and the low-tops sell for $219.

Grounded People has worked to build hype around the launch by doing press interviews and posting on social media. It also has plans to visit vegan night markets and expos, Justus said.

Online, it has maintained an air of mystery about the shoes. Earlier last week, Grounded People’s website became password protected and had the words “coming soon” on it, with a space for people to enter their email for updates. Its Instagram captions said “stay tuned” and “you will be surprised for what is coming this week.” Justus told Modern Retail that the company contacted subscribers on Friday, notifying them that the shoes had become available for pre-order, without any commitment. While Grounded People couldn’t share exact metrics, it’s seen “a lot of interest” in the collection since teasing it online, Justus said.

Justus founded Grounded People in 2020 after spending time in the direct-to-garment printing business. There, he learned more about the fashion supply chain’s impact on the environment, as well as the low pay and unsafe conditions in many factories. With Grounded People, Justus wanted to “make it more than just a shoe company,” he explained. “What we’re trying to hammer home here is that you can have a stylish, sustainable product that provides value not only to the consumer, but to the artisans that are producing it.”

Companies big and small have increasingly begun incorporating eco-friendly materials into their shoes. Rothy’s makes shoes and bags out of ocean-bound plastic, while Allbirds’ shoelaces are made out of plastic bottles. In 2021, Adidas launched a Stan Smith sneaker made from a mushroom-based material, while Nike sold a sneaker made with pineapple leaf fibers. In addition, dozens of companies including Madewell and J.Crew have started resale programs. Rothy’s, Timberland and The North Face have their own recycling programs. Greenwashing remains a concern, however, across multiple industries.

Today, “consumers are starting to understand that more consumption is negative for the environment,” Beth Goldstein, a fashion footwear and accessories analyst at The NPD Group, told Modern Retail. In a joint survey between NPD and CivicScience last January, 46% of respondents said it was important to buy sustainable footwear, up from 40% the year before.

For companies looking to bring eco-friendly shoes to market, “the complication here is really the storytelling and conveying the benefits,” Goldstein explained. She added that companies need to figure out “how to convey the proposition, because sustainability is not always just about the materials.” Other factors, like waste reduction, water conservation and carbon offsetting, play a role as well.

The public is increasingly grasping that multi-pronged approach. In June, NPD asked respondents how they would define sustainable footwear. Two-thirds said recycled materials, and the same amount said long-lasting and quality products. A little less than two-thirds said reduced waste during production.

At Grounded People, “I think it’s really important not to create more things to be put into the world,” Justus said. “To use things that have already been produced and to upcycle them to find new purposes for them is something that we’re really proud of.”