Here at Selectism, we occasionally like to step out from behind our desks, off the streets, and onto the trails. In this venture, we often take a look at brands that differ from our core interests. Ahnu Footwear is one of those.
Founded in 2007, Ahnu designs products geared toward active lifestyles with a focus on responsibility in all environmental and social encounters. Of course, this relates to sourcing. And, as such their story has great ramification on all brands seeking ethical supply chains.
We caught up with Jacqueline Lenox, Brand Director of Ahnu, to learn more about their intent and interests.
A short Q&A after the jump.
SL: Ethical supply chain standards are central to the production of Ahnu footwear. I’m interested in materials, how do you assess what is going to work best and meet your needs?
JL: We first begin with choosing the right partners. Suppliers who also implement and seek ethical supply chain standards. We’re willing to pay a little more knowing that we are getting good quality products being made by factories who implement positive social and environmental standards. Deckers Ethical Supply Chain Standards is even more rigorous than some of the third party endorsements and we seek to maintain those standards in our selection process. Fortunately, these are the suppliers who are already seeking to provide materials that are made with a more environmentally thoughtful approach.
SL: Are there challenges in promoting new technologies and sustainability in footwear?
JL: Innovation is key and so is our mission to being a responsible citizen, so perhaps the biggest challenge is ‘timing’. We are constantly seeking ways to stay innovative and resourceful around sustainable materials, but it takes time to properly test both to ensure that the quality is not faulty. Consider the wear and tear we put on our shoes each day, and even more so when we hit the trails, so our products must hold up properly, if for no other reason than the safety of the users. Of course, cost is another factor. Most consumers don’t realize that virgin materials are cheaper than recycled and re-engineered materials. So until consumers truly give merit to spending more for sustainable footwear, costs continue to be an obstacle. Given that, our efforts go beyond our footwear…until we can meet some of these high quality standards for sustainable materials, we will continue to act responsibly in other areas where we can make the right choice. A good example is our packaging that is made from 100% post consumer waste materials and uses soy based inks. Also, our partnerships with The Breast Cancer Fund and The Conservation Alliance also allow us to act responsibly beyond the products themselves.
SL: Tell me a little about the design process at Ahnu. Clearly, functionality is key… but there is a stylistic requirement too. How did the brands aesthetic develop and where did it spring from?
JL: Our design ethos begins with our brand’s premise of ‘blurring the lines between performance and lifestyle (or fashion if you prefer that word)”. Aesthetic is critical in our performance products just as functionality is critical in our casual products. We take a ‘go anywhere’ approach to our design that allows our products to go from trail to city cafe with one pair of shoes. Feel great on the trails, look great at the cafe. We believe that our consumers are fashionable, lead very busy lives and are always on the go, so creating good looking performance products is critical for their everyday needs.
SL: Where do you find inspiration? I see some climbing, there is are traditional day hikers, and then a shoe like the Quinn, that has a more subtle turn to the outdoors. Looking at the line, I do wonder if there is a hierarchy of intent with the shoes… what comes first the trail or the street?
JL: They come hand in hand. Do Ahnu trail shoes look great with jeans? Yes. Can I take my cute Ahnu mary janes to Europe for all day walking with multiple outfits and multiple activities? Yes. Purple is the new black. Do my Ahnu fashion forward hiking boots come in purple? Yes. A big part of our success is not only design, but our implementation of fashion forward color in an otherwise, very brown outdoor world. So our inspirations come from an everyday urban life.
SL: Social responsibility isn’t new to products marketed in the outdoors world. What separates Ahnu from others on this side of the company?
JL: Social and environmental responsibility has been inherent in our brand since we began 3 years ago. We immediately sought out factories with SA8000 certification (one of the highest standards around social responsibility in manufacturing) and we were a pioneering brand with the Plus 3 Network, a social networking site designed around getting active and giving back on a day to day basis through everyday fitness routines. We are now proud sponsors for The Breast Cancer Fund and The Conservation Alliance through those efforts. So, for us, being socially responsible isn’t an item on a checklist, it’s one of the key philosophies that drives our brand.