Why We Do Business With Radical Transparency
When I decided to start a shoe company, I didn’t know much about the fashion business. I certainly wasn’t on any kind of campaign to reform it. I just had a great idea for a stylish, comfortable, sustainable shoe, and I was determined to make it happen.
I took the first serious step in 2013, when I moved back to my home country of Ecuador for a year right after graduating from college. I wanted to educate myself about the footwear manufacturing industry, so I got on a bus and started visiting the places in Ecuador and Peru where shoes were made.
These were not big factories making brand-name sneakers. They were small workshops, usually inside people’s homes, where families scrape by making wood bottom, leather upper shoes. I saw young kids working, their labor needed to help the family survive. I saw pregnant women sitting all day in rooms reeking of the toxic fumes from processing leather. For my own safety, I always had to go in the early morning, when criminal activity in these dangerous neighborhoods was at its lowest.
Then, I went to Lima and saw the opposite: a big factory where everything was organized, regulated, and safe.
This eye-opening experience made me realize how much suffering and danger is hidden from the average person buying a pair of shoes. Most of the time, we really have no idea what has gone into making the things we wear every day.
I wanted to change that.
First, we needed to create a vertically integrated company, where we could see and control every step of the process. The key was to find the right partners—people we could trust to do things right, the way we believed they should be done.
We found them in Hong Kong. I first went there when my brother was living there for a time, and I visited out of pure cultural curiosity. Later, I went on my own to explore the footwear factories there. I found one that could work with the sustainable materials we wanted to use, and I saw for myself that it provided a clean, safe, well-lit work environment with fair pay.
Our vision goes beyond minimizing our own human and environmental impacts, though. We believe the entire fashion industry needs to get on board with this way of doing business, and the key to it all is transparency. Consumers want and deserve to know where their clothes and shoes really come from, and if brands have to share that information, they’ll have to hold themselves to a higher standard throughout their supply chain.
We call this idea “open retail.” We’re committed to sharing anything and everything about our operations with our customers. If we can never hide anything, we’ll never be tempted to make choices that give us something to hide. This radical openness can be the seed of a real transformation that leads to less human suffering and environmental degradation in the making of clothes and shoes, all over the world.