The founders of Wildling Shoes Anna and Ran Yona believe that feet are healthy by nature, and we only need shoes that will protect them from the elements. Wildling shoes are therefore designed to interfere with regular foot function as little as possible, allowing feet to move freely and develop naturally. The company uses all sustainably sourced materials and ethical manufacturing practices to minimize its ecological footprint. Anna told me their products are designed with the philosophy “as little shoe as possible.”
The importance of design to sustainability is a topic covered in The Profiteers: How Business Privatizes Profits and Socializes Cost. While a lot of environmental programs start by trying to mitigate waste and pollution issues that already exist, a more fundamental way to be sustainable is to start with design. As Einstein said "a clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it."
I recently caught up with Anna to learn more about the company and its mission. She told me that an inspiration for the company was finding shoes for their children. None of the models available seemed to meet the requirements in terms of freedom of movement, sustainable materials, and fair production which inspired their founding of Wildling Shoes. Below are some key points from my Forbes article on Wildling Shoes:
Yona said that “when designing a shoe, we try to use only the bare minimum of materials - only what is necessary to create a high-quality product,” she says. This also makes their product recyclable. She adds that “being able to take back our products soon and recycle all their components is one of our bigger goals for the next few years.”
To reduce its environmental impact, Wildling Shoes chooses to focus on materials and design. “We choose local, natural materials and craftsmanship, leave many fabrics undyed to reduce water and chemicals use, specifically test all materials for their quality and durability and make our products repairable,” Yona says. “Our model avoids the down pricing rush so typical of fast fashion, pushing customers to buy yet another product they don’t need at a price that is unsustainable. Our shoes are never out of season and will be sold until they are out of stock.”
Wildling Shoes has been working towards a 100% sustainable supply chain. “Today the supply chains for our main textiles are transparent, so we know about each step a material takes in the making - beginning with the source and cultivation via each processing step up until the production.” Yona says. “It takes a lot of time, effort, and passion to implement changes for the better from within the existing structures.”
B Corp certification process takes Wildling Shoes to a new level of sustainability. “Completing the assessment allowed us to see where we have already made good progress (e.g. regarding our work culture and supply chain management) and where we need to improve (e.g. regarding documentation and measurements),” Yona says. “This has led to establishing a sustainability report, collecting, and analyzing data in all areas of the company.”
Wildling Shoes are also working to better the lives of their workers. “We have two people dedicated to improving the social standards, with our focus lying on the shoe and outsole production facilities now. The team runs a regular risk assessment to rule out any harmful conditions,” Yona says. “We strive to create good, close relationships with all production teams, to work together on equal footing, share information and improve working conditions continuously.”
Yona says the company’s long-term goal is not just to minimize harm but to achieve regeneration. “For guidance, we look at how a well-balanced ecosystem functions and try to adapt our way of thinking and our actions to those principles,” she says. “Circular, collaborative, diverse and regenerative - this is what the future looks like for Wildling.”
While sustainability is a long journey for all companies, we see how far Wildling Shoes has come with a simple idea – good shoes should be as simple as possible. In this case, what is healthy for people is also healthy for the planet.