INTERVIEW by JESSICA PANDZIC | PHOTOGRAPHY by MARIELLE VAN LEEWEN & CORRIETTE SCHOENAERTS
OAT Shoes are like none other on the market; they’re completely biodegradable. The best part? Soon after placed in the ground, a bouquet of wildflowers sprouts! Their architect, a young “cultural creative” from Delfzijl, Holland, studied industrial design in Holland and product design in Australia. While traveling and studying, he was inspired to create a product that brought society back into harmony with nature. He wanted to “tell stories” with a product, giving it layers of meaning. Hence, the inception of OAT Shoes: Shoes that Bloom.
Let’s begin with the basics: give our readers an idea of what OAT Shoes are and what they’re made out of.
OAT Shoes are biodegradable sneakers that carry flowers in the tongue of the shoe. Once you wear them, or rather once you’re done wearing them, you can bury them in the ground and have a bouquet of wildflowers growing where your sneakers are buried. The Virgin Collection was made with hemp canvas and a certified biodegradable plastic in the sole and the eyelets — also, some additional materials like cork, bio-cotton and jute.
Where are they made?
They’re made in Bulgaria. I design them and then I take them to Italy to an artisan; she’s been making shoes for 35 years. She develops my designs into prototypes and then we take the prototypes to Bulgaria to have them produced.
How many models do you have?
Right now there’s four models in a couple of colors. We just came out this Wednesday with the new Skin Collection. It uses the same models but [instead of canvas] they’re made with biodegradable leather that a Dutch tannery has created. They approached us because they wanted to develop this biodegradable leather and didn’t have a client for it. We jumped at the opportunity.
How long have you been interested in making shoes and when did you first dream of the idea for “shoes that bloom”?
For me it all started with wanting to tell stories with products. I asked myself, “How can you embed layers of meaning in a product so that the product becomes more than just functional — it becomes elevated to something more?”
I was actually doing my graduation project, in Delft at the Technical University, about making automatic shoes. During the process of designing and doing research, I got more into the whole sustainable aspect of society. As a new brand you have to be future-oriented. In a society that needs to partner up with nature again, sustainability has to be a part of the DNA of the company. Also, you have to make a product that people want to buy. [During my project] I realized that I should make a shoe that you can feel good about throwing away. Also, old shoes carry a lot of memories in them. The idea struck me as nice: if you could bury your shoes and have plants or a tree growing out of them. They would be gone, but there would be something in their place.
You have a very specific product. Who is your target market?
Right now we are focusing on the “cultural creatives”: people from 25 to about 40 that are creative, live in cities, are aware of their environment and their health — people who pay attention to the way they look or want to look, and just enjoy life. For me it’s always hard to describe my target group. Basically, the target group is me and my friends!
Both the Virgin Collection and the new Limited Skin Collection each have a very definitive style. Where did the inspiration come from in their design?
I wanted to create four classic sneaker silhouettes. They’re an interpretation of the classic sneaker — the “Chuck” or the “hightop.” The boat shoe isn’t really a classic, I just like the style! The Virgin Collection is basically the concept in purist form. It’s an empty, basic canvas that’s white and beige, uncolored. It’s the empty canvas on which to build future designs.
Who are the retailers selling them now?
We have retailers in both Holland and Germany. (Click here for a list of retailers.)
How can Daily BR!NK contribute to your success?
I’m sorry to say that we’re not available in the U.S. yet. I hope to change that, but it’s a tough nut to crack. Of course, the best way to contribute is to buy the shoes. In the end, even though we’re an idealistic brand, we still need money to develop the shoes, improve them, and make them cheaper so we can sell them to a broader audience.
Also, if you know of any funky new materials that degrade when underground, let us know. We are always on the lookout for new materials and new ways to make shoes or any other [biodegradable] product. Any ideas you have, hit us up and we can work on them.