Renowned shoe designer Sven Segal has created a niche collection of sustainable shoes for all weathers. His famous Coir Foot Mattress is described as the ‘heart’ of Po-Zu’s shoes; made from coconut husk, it moulds to the shape of the wearer’s foot within a week. Segal turned to shoe design in 1995, after graduating from the Cordwainers College in London, and set up his own shoe-design company, Po-Zu, in 2006. Successful collaborations have cemented the brand’s global appeal, and has recently launched a customisation tool to enable people to create their own unique pair of shoes.
Sublime: How did you come to be a shoe designer?
Sven Segal: I studied architecture when I was young, and still wanted to try different things once I finished. Had a fling in graphic design and stage design, and after working several years as a photographer I’ve missed designing objects. I was after something super useful and shoes were the most practical thing I could think of. It’s also comparable to architecture; the three-dimensional structural element is still there.
S: What was it that you found unsatisfactory about working for other shoe companies?
SS: After I graduated from Cordwainers I was working for companies that used harsh and toxic materials and glues. When I visited factories in the Far East, the shifts were so long that I started asking questions. No one was willing to even consider changing any of those practices; they turned a blind eye in favour of profit. That’s all they seemed to care about.
S: As well as the Coir Foot Mattress, you are also known for developing the Coco Box, a shoebox made from coconut husk, which was nominated for a Green Packaging award.
SS: I came up with the idea when I was looking at some biodegradable coir plant pots. I realised that it was a mouldable material, and decided to box the shoes in it to create an added purpose for the packaging to be used as seed trays/ planters. It also fitted nicely with the coconut husk foot-mattress, and our biodegradable story as we use natural materials for the shoes too, like pure wool English tweed, vegetable tanned leathers, and natural rubber for the soles.
S: Tell us about your collaborations with other designers ...
SS: I love collaborating with other brands; it’s a great way to make a better product, putting together two sets of ideas. Our collaboration with Timberland was especially great in that sense because the shoes we developed could be easily disassembled for recycling, as well as being made from biodegradable components.
S: And your campaign, featuring upside-down images of people wearing the shoes, how did you arrive at the concept?
SS: When I shot the first photos, I played around with the images, thinking about different possibilities, and just flipped an image around and fell in love with the result. Conceptually it is based on the science behind the camera obscura; we see everything upside down and then our brain flips the image over for us. It’s about asking the right questions, such as why we do stuff in a certain way, and what are we meant to be doing in the world. Perhaps there are a number of basic practices we owe to be changing as drastically as upside-down. The images also express our deep connection with nature.
S: Finally, what are you most proud of?
SS: I’m proud of supporting important environmental charities through the business, being part of the sustainable revolution, and one of the first brands to make positive changes in the shoe industry. As far as making an impact through amusement, I’d say our multifunctional Edible Shoe Cream has been quite a hit!