Can you tell us a little bit about your background/history that has led you to this point?
I was born and raised in a small village near the French Alps. From an early age, I loved outdoor sports of all kinds – skiing, hiking, biking and running. My family was one that spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors and traveling the world. Those experiences also led me to develop an instinctual care for protecting nature and wildlife, which have been core values of mine from an early age.
Professionally, I’ve worked in the outdoor industry from the start of my career. I worked in sales and international business management for the French heritage brands, Lafuma, Eider, and Millet for a bulk of my career. While I very much enjoyed working in an industry that revolved around one of my greatest passions, part of that experience also led me to witness the environmental damage that is caused by textile manufacturing – the very gear that we use to enjoy the outdoors. I felt a need to do something.
Tell us about your product/brand and the inspiration behind it?
SAOLA makes eco-friendly shoes for everyday life. We like to call them “sustainable kicks that kick back,” both because of their laid-back style, and also because a portion of sales is donated to wildlife conservation. The textile manufacturing industry is the world’s second largest polluter behind oil and gas. And footwear production is even more harmful – over 25 billion pairs of shoes are made each year. So I wanted eco-friendly shoes, but I wanted them to be cool-looking and comfortable. So much of what I saw on the market that was labeled “eco-friendly” had this granola look and feel to them. I wanted to create a brand that had the style of surf but shared the passions of the outdoor/mountain sports community.
How does sustainability play a role in your brand/product development? How important has this been to consumers?
It’s our number one priority. Well, of course the shoes have to look good and feel good or else nobody will wear them – not even us. But we’re not interested in producing shoes that are made in the same mass-produced manner as the others on the market, so we invest a lot of resources into using sustainable materials. And for our core audience, this is something that is important.
What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet?
It’s an absolute necessity for both. We can’t go on consuming in the same way we have over the last 30 years. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change and if we don’t change behaviors at a mass scale, the human race will face various dangers that will ultimately destroy quality of life.
How does technology and innovation play a role in your business?
Very much so. We need more innovation around bio-based materials to eliminate the need for petroleum. We also need to look at end-of-life alternatives as to reduce the amount of waste we’re throwing in landfills. Textile manufacturing is in need of many new innovations to reduce its carbon footprint, and we aim to play a role in creating that change.
Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind?
That SAOLA helped turn the ship in the right direction to clean up the mess we’ve made, and future generations will be better off than we are today.
What message do you have for those starting their own business in regards to sustainability and innovation?
Establish priorities – you won’t be able to achieve all of your goals in the very beginning, so what’s most important? What’s the first step to achieving the change you want to see? And then set goals from there. It’s too overwhelming and not realistic to tackle everything at once.
Do you have a quote, saying or poem you find inspirational and what is it?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
What brands do you admire?
Patagonia, Picture Organic Clothing, Outerknown, United by Blue, tentree, Toad & Co, Finisterre, and Tom’s to name a few!
How important do you think transparency and authenticity in brands is to consumers?
Very important. Especially in passion-driven industries like outdoor and surf, which are made up of critical, conscious consumers. They can see through BS and will only support brands that they feel they can trust.
What is your favorite animal and why?
Too many to list! I’ve always loved elephants. They’re just such interesting creatures and I feel like I’m looking back thousands of years when I see them. I also love marine-life like dolphins and whales.
What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind?
Single-use plastic is my current goal. We’ve done a pretty good job at our house, eliminating plastic water/drink bottles and kitchen items like ziplock bags and replacing with reusable ones. But when you look at items from the grocery store, there’s still a long way to go in order to fully eliminate single-use.