Shoes aren’t an easy product to make sustainably. Most mainstream mass shoe manufacturing involves toxic glues and plastics and unsustainably-sourced rubber and leather. A few companies have succeeded in making a shoe that is credibly sustainable and looks cool too. I noticed some exciting social media in South Africa about Novesta and made contact with Bruce Whiffler, the local agent of the Slovakian brand. I wanted to find out more about the shoes which the websites claims are made according to the highest environmental standards. They use materials “such as natural rubber and 100% cotton and linen. These materials allow us to produce ecological footwear of the highest quality”. Bruce put me in touch with Igor Grosaft, a partner in the shoe company which is based in the Slovak Republic in Eastern Europe. I sent Igor a few questions:
You’ve captured the hearts and minds of your consumers? How have you done this? In times of fast fashion with no trace of who made the product, we are offering a genuine story, traceable heritage and genuine, original procedures of traditional shoemaking. Those who appreciate such qualities are our core customers. And as the times have been changing with more and more people caring about the way they consume products and services, Novesta products are being recognized and valued for responsible business behavior . Plus it is the good looks:)
How many people does Novesta employ? It employs about 400 people directly, around 30 in a daughter company in Czech Republic which we recently acquired.
Jan Antonin Bata first opened the factory in Slovakia in 1939. Who owns it now? The original area has more than 50 hectares of space. Shoemaking has been part of it. Novesta currently owns most of the shoemaking buildings and belonging infrastructure.
The rubber is natural. Where does it come from? Is it traceable to ethical production practices? We buy our rubber from EU certified sources, mostly from Vietnam.
And the cotton and linen? From where do you source these fabrics? Again, EU certified sources, mostly from Slovak or Czech textile makers. We also use some Global Organic Textile Standard * certified cotton for certain lines of production.
In how many countries are you available? In about 40 countries.
Why have you come to South Africa? Bruce Whiffler was “the discoverer” of Novesta for South Africa. He introduced us to the possibilities and explained the love South Africans have for fashion. We decided to invest and make Johannesburg our hub not only for South Africa but also with potential to grow beyond the borders.
Does all the production happen in Slovakia? It’s 100% Slovakian. We are currently adding capacities in Czech Republic, to go back to traditional Czecho-Slovak shoemaking heritage.
How many shoes do you produce in one day? We have many different products, starting from canvas to rubber boots. We produce about 1,5 million pairs a year.
You say you’re handmade, but I see there are machines in your factory. How does work? How do you balance this? Working with natural materials involves a lot more handwork than working with synthetic fabrics. You can not avoid machines in producing the rubber sheets and for vulcanization of rubber but aside of these two production processes – the rest is applied handwork which requires a lot of skill.
Tomorrow (Saturday 18 August) Thesis Lifestyle in Soweto launches their stock of Novesta with an open event and music by Jussbanks, Mr 55, Sir Tunez and Vuyo the Bull. The store will be the latest outlet to stock Novesta in South Africa.
Blackwood Brothers Store, 63a Shortmarket Street
Dipstreet, 82 Juta Street, Braamfontein
Dipstreet, 4th Ave Parkhurst, Parkhurst
Diaro Living, 35 8th Street, Linden
Tshepo The Jean Maker, Victoria Yards, Lorentzville
Thesis Lifestyle, 17 Machaba Drive, Mofolo Village Soweto
Hollywood 2000, 344 Anton Lembede Street, Durban Central
Tape, Wonderpark Shopping Centre, Wonderpark
Tape, Sunnypark Shopping Centre, Sunnyside
Queens, cnr Thabo Sehume Street and Helen Joseph Streets, Pretoria
- For more information see here.
- The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was developed through collaboration by leading standard setters with the aim of defining requirements that are recognised world-wide and that ensure the organic status of textiles from harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing all the way to labelling in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer.