Footwear designer Asher Clark talks Drapers through the world of natural shoe design at eco footwear brand Terra Plana.
How did you first get involved with Terra Plana?
My cousin, Galahad Clark, inherited Terra Plana as an artisan shoe brand in 2003 and he decided to turn it into an eco footwear offering. He brought me and Ajoy Sahu on board to formulate the design element with a vision to transforming it into a younger, more urban brand. Ajoy and I also design for Kenzo, Paul & Joe, DKNY, Replay and Firetrap, and we wanted to create something just as cool.
What does Terra Plana offer to compete with high street and branded footwear?
The consumer’s idea of eco-friendly products is that the aesthetic isn’t very good, that they are under-designed and a bit hippy. We wanted to create shoes that are classic but modern pieces that consumers won’t tire of. We put a lot of effort into creating product that is visually appealing and relevant to today, making shoes that feel good to wear. We’re particularly proud of our Worn Again recycled trainers and our Vivo Barefoot shoes, which have a very thin sole to give wearers that great feeling of walking barefoot but still being totally protected.
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
We travel a lot and the things we see and hear have a lot of influence on what we create. We’re always hanging out in different cities and picking up ideas from the people we meet, as well as what we see at trade shows. Also, because Ajoy and I work with a number of other brands, it’s a bit like a whole cauldron of thought – we’re always talking product.
What materials go into a Terra Plana shoe?
A lot of different ones. The mainline uses vegetable tanned leathers and is hand-stitched, so there are no toxic glues involved. We’ve sourced old rubber straps and car tyres to make the soles for the Worn Again shoes. We’ve just started working with a new type of recycled mesh, we use recycled nylons and synthetics and our reconstituted latex now includes recycled rice husks. We’re constantly trying to redefine how shoes are made – at the moment we’re trialling a recycled plastic fibre core instead of cardboard and metal for shoe heels. Metal is the thing you can’t recycle, so by replacing it we can make a fully recyclable shoe.
How do you go about designing Terra Plana product?
Our design principles work on the basis of the five senses. Our shoes have to look modern in design and relevant to today’s fashion landscape. They have to feel good to wear – there is nothing worse than not wanting to walk to the Tube in your shoes in the morning.
We have a policy of using minimal toxins and glue-free constructions, which means the shoes smell nicer too. Listening to what is going on around us is key to creating something that has street cred. And finally we think about taste, which we translate as ecological taste, so we try to build new sustainable concepts into each wave of shoes we design.
How are people’s perceptions of eco products changing?
There is a lot more awareness of what it means to buy an eco-friendly product these days. People are becoming more educated and interested in it as the products become more high performance. Some 20 billion tonnes of shoes are thrown away each year in the UK alone and we’re also now involved in a working group that is trying to reduce this.
Asher Clark is head designer at eco-friendly footwear brand Terra Plana