The Canadian Footwear Made From Natural and Recycled Materials
Sofi Khwaja, Co-Founder of Alice + Whittles
I currently live in Toronto, Canada - probably the most diverse city in the world. My inspiration definitely comes from experiencing many corners of the world - from cities to very remote rural regions. There is nothing like stepping out of an airport or off a train for the first time after arriving in a country I have never visited before. That first moment where everything is so new - the smell of the air, sounds of the traffic and pace of language, shape of the trees.
I’m not sure why but I thrive in a bit of chaos, and take great pride in finding serenity amidst chaotic and difficult environments. Seeing the beauty in often overlooked places.
We create functional yet elevated collections of footwear from natural and recycled materials with the aim of giving people the option of shopping guilt-free without sacrificing style.
Myself, and co-founder Nick Horekens (now husband) met while working with the UN Refugee Agency in Switzerland. Our experience with the UN helped us see the impact that the global fashion industry had on the lives of workers and the surrounding environment. We thought about what industries had the potential to balance the inequities of the world.
In 2014, we left our posts to find an innovative solution to these global problems. After spending six months learning from grassroots organizations we introduced a contemporary line of footwear that was design forward, environmentally and socially conscious and could take them around the world and back in just our carry-on.
At Alice + Whittles, we design around materials that benefit the planet and reduce our footprint, working directly with producer communities who share our value for human dignity and contribute positively to the communities we work within. Very few contemporary footwear brands have been able to merge sustainability, function, and style as we have.
We favour transparency, ethical manufacturing practices, and worker empowerment as a means of creating long-lasting, positive change.
Firstly, we turned to the Fair Rubber Association, a group of NGOs, producers, and suppliers who aim to improve the working and living conditions of the primary producers of natural latex (rubber). The FRA explained that natural rubber, if not sourced from accredited forests, often comes from large-scale plantations, many of which replaced indigenous crops. These mass clearings affect the environment in a number of ways: accelerated erosion and landslides depleted water sources and contamination from pesticides and fertilizer. We knew we couldn't do this, so we chose to source our rubber from the Hevea Brasiliensis tree that grows in FSC-certified forests. We pay more for fair-trade along with the additional premium for a community fund.
The FSC is a global not-for-profit organization that sets the standards for what is a responsibly managed forest, both environmentally and socially. The pace of production would give “slow fashion” a whole new meaning but employees would be paid a living wage and work in safe factories and the rubber itself would be sustainable and 100% ethically sourced.
I’m so excited about our new sneaker line. The Minimalist Black Luxa Sneaker is my favourite. It is so simple, contemporary and yet elegant. The uppers are made a single piece of recycled leather taken from the waste of luxury European car seats. The leather is carefully folded into a shape that hugs the foot and the rubber sole has just the right amount of lift that makes it both relevant now while being timeless for years to come. It is the culmination of what we strive for at Alice + Whittles.