Johannes Quodt on making the first regenerative and biodegradable luxury leather shoe

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Johannes Quodt, CEO and co-founder of Koio Collective, joins us to share how they’re changing the world through their journey towards making direct-to-consumer, high-quality, and biodegradable luxury shoes. 

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What are the current issues in the leather industry? How do we make the production of leather as regenerative as it can get? What does it mean to make luxury shoes through waste? Why is vegan leather not a silver bullet solution? Why are luxury brand conglomerates having trouble going regenerative? 

Koio Collective’s Long-term Vision

Koio Collective, which makes top-grade luxury shoes, believes that a high-quality product that lasts long can bring greater impact to the planet. Hence, they are on a journey towards their long-term vision, which is to make their shoes completely biodegradable—those that leave zero waste when disposed. What they do to achieve their vision is to partner with Italian tanneries with the highest standards in waste management, chemicals management, water management and to use regenerative cow hides, which are basically considered “waste” as they are merely a by-product of the meat industry. 

“Given that we wanted to make a high end product, we wanted to make it not only nice and shiny and beautiful at the surface, we also wanted to make it really healthy at the core. Healthy at the core meant to us that we are complying with our ideas around sustainability.” – Johannes Quodt 

Leather Industry: The Bad 

People outside the fashion industry are often unaware of how destructive irresponsible leather production could be. The dark side of the leather industry, as we know, includes inhumane treatment of animals. However, if we are to look into it more deeply, mishandling the leather making process poses even greater danger not only to workers but all the way down to consumers. One example Johannes mentioned is the use of chrome-6, a chemical that’s known to be carcinogenic for those exposed to it. 

“It’s very, very important to know exactly who you’re working with, and making sure that the tannery you work with is very considerate about chemical use and only uses the best ingredients in order to make the leather.” – Johannes Quodt 

More Harm Than Good 

There had been many attempts to bring regeneration in the shoe-making industry, although Johannes saw many of them insular. Some of these include “vegan” leather and recycled leather, which were both found to be bringing more harm than good for the planet because of their overuse of harmful chemicals and plastics. The most promising ones, on the other hand, are the use of zeolite and the traditional vegetable tanning method. As leather making has a bunch of processes that include chemicals, Johannes believes that it is vital to know who you work with (tanneries, suppliers, etc.). 

“It’s a clear vision that has a dramatic and positive impact on our ecosystems and our planet, where as deep as you dig, you only see that it makes more sense.” – Johannes Quodt 

Changing the Supply Chain

Many huge companies are making their statements about sustainability and caring for the planet. Some luxury brand giants such as Kering, LVMH, and Ralph Lauren are even committed to funding regeneration-related activities. However, Johannes believes that it would be so much more impactful if these conglomerates would also do some deep diving, truly explore, and start transitioning to regenerative materials. To do this at scale, there might be a need to change the entire supply chain. 

“If you look at regenerative, it has to be companies where people are going super deep and questioning everything, because those are the ones that are going to be around.” – Johannes Quodt 

Other Points Discussed 

Koen and Johannes also talked about the following: 

  • We should incentivise farmers to go regenerative;
  • Companies should measure their carbon impact;
  • Fashion brands’ production process should be transparent;
  • One of the biggest challenges we face is the supply chain;
  • The potential of direct to consumer fashion brands.

To know more about Johannes Quodt and Koio Collective, download and listen to this episode. 

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