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Footwear of the future

Grandt Mason’s philosophy is to design a shoe that incorporates beauty, function & impacts the environment.

Vegan shoes on display at Grandt Mason's atelier at the Woodstock Exchange in Cape Town. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Grandt Mason is a vegan and for years he sought a pair of vegan shoes. Real Vegan shoes - not faux-vegan. But he found none… So he decided to make his own.

He started with a boot, which he says wasn't beautiful. It wasn't perfect. But it was vegan and manufactured using no animal products.

It was environmentally friendly - a shoe he calls "sustainable".

From prototype he persevered, sticking with his craft until he began to perfect it.

Soon people were buying his shoes not as footwear, but as art because they were just too beautiful".

His atelier, at the Woodstock exchange, is his creative space where he can experiment with new ideas.

He can stop his team mid-production cycle and try a design that is on his mind. Despite opportunities to mass-produce, he keeps this space as his own, sharing it only with his team. While these shoes are his invention, they are his team's creation.

"It would be pretty selfish to refer to it as my footwear label," smiles Mason.

His team are experts in their trade.

They have to be, he says, because the fabric won't allow otherwise.

Some of the material costs around R2000 per meter, and has been sourced from the far corners of the world.

His team has learnt his style. So much so that Mason comes and goes as he pleases; while his team, wise in their profession, continue to create his ideas - each of these unique in their design and their assemblage… each with their own sophistication, and their own finesse.

One-of-a-kind shoes are exactly what you get. A custom option allows you to choose your fabric and coordination.

Supervised by Mason, his team will put together your design using a method Mason calls three-dimensional design.

Starting on the last, Mason patterns the shoe on masking tape first. He then builds the shoe around the last, mapping shapes that meet and fit each other.

Conventional methods, which he terms contrary to his "sustainable footwear" philosophy, use heat to bend synthetics around the last.

"I focused on creating a shoe that stitched up to form a three-dimensional shape. When I transfer that shape from 3D to 2D, I do it in a way that builds structural integrity into the design, rather than taking something flat and putting silicone on it, heating it up and pulling it over the last…relying on that process to form the shape of the shoe."

Watch: Are these biodegradable shoes the footwear of the future?

Self-proclaimed as "obsessed" with adjustability, Mason's shoes are designed to be more ergonomic and comfortable. One adjusts the shoe on the heel with laces and opens it at the front with a press-stud.

"I see a design as problem solving. Looking at the function the shoe has to perform, and then working very closely with the ergonomics of the foot, the movement of the foot, where the toe bone lies, where the toes lie, and just trying to ensure that the end result is comfortable and looks good."

Mid-game, Mason had to revise his marketing strategy.

"Foreigners seem to pick up the quality and the love and passion that's gone into the product a bit more than the local market. The local market is starting to pick it up a bit more but it's almost as though they are spoilt for design and artisanal creativity because there is so much of it here in Cape Town."

After great deliberation, Mason had to shift his production philosophy, one he had endeavoured for 13 years to maintain, or go under. He believes that the there isn't enough of a demand for strictly vegan shoes.

"People associate leather with quality. If it's not leather, it's not quality. It is only once they see my leather shoes and the fabric ones alongside them that they realise that they are the same quality."

But he says his philosophy of sustainable footwear hasn't changed.

"The focus should be on ensuring that the processes involved in reaching that point are sustainable and profitable."

His leather is ethically sourced, and tanned and treated with what he calls "sustainable" measures: Bark tanning rather than chemically hazardous products that seep neurotoxins into our skin, often unbeknown to the wearer.

Mason wants to persevere with his line of sustainable footwear until he can create a truly sustainable shoe: A bio-degradable shoe. A shoe that the wearer, once they have finished with it, can throw it onto their compost heap or their vegetable patch, and later harvest a crop from the same soil.

"A lot of people are creating pseudo-vegan synthetic leathers which are basically plastic. And I just don't get it. If you're going to wear vegan footwear then there are a million high end materials that you can rather look at using."

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