When Werner Winterboer provided leather veldskoen for a bridal shoot, he had no idea that this would lead to his making a collection of vegan vellies.  Sapmok was founded in 2015 by Werner, an outdoor enthusiast and entrepreneur with a deep passion for nature conservation. The company’s mission is to combine nature experiences with authentic, handcrafted products.

Sapmok has been producing leather veldskoen since February 2017. Known as vellies, these veldskoen are a South African hard-wearing walking shoe made from leather uppers, leather footbed and rubber soles. Before making shoes, Werner had been wedged behind an office desk and had spent time travelling. When he decided to start the brand, he enrolled at the now defunct The Footwear Design and Technology Centre of SA to learn the trade of shoemaking. Every day, he works with leather, experimenting and working at producing the perfect leather vellies.

Vegan vellies were not on his radar until Nina Zimolong, a photographer, asked Werner for shoes for a shoot she was working on with models, Rosa Linde, Suarya-rose Santos and Steven John Ward (pictured). They refused to wear leather products.  She asked Werner, “This might sound crazy, but do you make vegan vellies?”

Werner’s interest was piqued and he was up for the challenge. “The vegan vellies are made out of a cotton maize bag lined with a polymer sponge with a cotton lining on the inside. There’s an old material shop in Pretoria selling loads of cool stuff, and we found what we needed there,” he says.

The vegan vellies launched just over a month ago. It’s still early days but Sapmok is a young brand with a client base that is open to new things. “We’re figuring out our destiny and where we are headed. Up until now, our clients have been so supportive and full of ideas for the brand. There hasn’t been any resistance to the leather or vegan ranges.”

As a small business, the biggest challenge Werner faces is finding good quality materials. It’s often a case of working with what he can find. Currently, the leather comes from leading tanneries in SA and a supplier in Spain. The soles of the shoes are made from thermoplastic rubbers, a man-made substance, sourced locally.

Werner’s suppliers may not be embracing ethical fashion and sustainable materials due to the costs associated with making these changes. But more and more retailers are interested in going this route. “I see eco-fashion as an exciting way forward and a space where we can play with new ideas. It’s the future. Up and coming brands should use this opportunity. We plan on manufacturing our products as green as we can and look to brands like Patagonia as a role models for ourselves,” says Werner.

All Sapmok products are produced in South Africa and inspired by traditional designs, patterns, textures and local aesthetics.  While the primary focus is the manufacturing of products, shoes and apparel, Werner and his team support educational products and sustainable projects by creating awareness for these initiatives across the country and Africa.

“We’d like Sapmok to become a leading SA brand of environmentally-friendly products with conservation as our main goal. The vegan vellies are a turning point for us as they show what can happen if we focus our creativity on the environment. Keeping in mind, we have a long way to go. If we can convert one person at a time, and hopefully in time, it will result in more change,” says Werner.

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Photo credits: Images supplied.