In its search for new, sustainable brands, FashionUnited came across Genesis - a German sneaker brand that has been sustainable and environmentally friendly from the very beginning. It combines pretty much everything that makes a consumer's heart beat faster when it comes to consumption without a guilty conscience: upcycled materials, textile innovations made from oyster shells, banana leaves, pineapple leaves and others, fair working conditions, donations to environmental organisations and, of course, good design and quality.
“We are too poor to buy rubbish,” emphasises Genesis founder Jens Huesken, echoing an old sentiment. He has been working in and with the shoe and textile industry for almost 20 years and has been suspicious of its goings-on and price dumping for many years.
Quality is a must - “too poor to buy rubbish”
“I had been thinking for a while that it couldn't go on like this,” Huesken tells FashionUnited. “The key moment was when I came across a company that processed the leaves of an elephant ear taro plant so that it felt just like leather. Until then, I had only known artificial leather as polyurethane. That's when I took the decision to start a sustainable sneaker label.”
In addition, consumers started asking for products they can buy with a clear conscience. “I am noticing that the ecological aspect is becoming more and more important. Simply the feeling of having made a good purchasing decision. My personal design aspiration is to make cool sneakers; people should like the sneakers first. The second aspect then simply follows,” explains Huesken.
That is why, from the get-go, Genesis set itself the goal of “developing a sneaker that incorporates the highest possible percentage of recycled, sustainable and environmentally friendly materials, and does so at the highest level that is currently possible”.
“It is in my nature not to do anything half-heartedly. If it's a sustainable shoe, then everything has to be sustainable: All the materials used for the shoe, but also the packaging, the transport, POS materials, and so on, right down to the tape we use to seal the boxes,” states Huesken.
“On my travels, both for business and pleasure, I kept coming across new, sustainable materials and collected them over the years. Only when I had gathered everything I needed to have a shoe made completely sustainably did I start planning for Genesis Footwear.”
“The name ‘Genesis’ represents this, as it often means returning to the original. The logo on the side of the shoe is meant to suggest a stylised leaf. Over time, it became not only a sense of responsibility but also the sporting incentive to take it to the extreme,” says the founder of the German brand, which describes itself as “probably the world’s most eco- friendly sneaker brand”.
Innovative materials and production in one location
Huesken travelled the world in search of the right materials, but soon realised that materials and production should happen in one and the same region: “In my quest for usable, sustainable materials, I also travelled to South America, Central America and Europe, but when it became clear that I would have the shoes made in Asia, I only focused on Asia. I just don't want to buy a certain material in Mexico, for example, ship it to Asia and then bring the finished shoe back to Europe. For me, that is just not sustainable.”
Finding the right materials was a challenge
“Apart from some innovative materials that I was excited about, but that were unfortunately not durable enough for footwear production, the main frustration is that many companies, especially small ones, don't have certificates for their products, making them almost irrelevant to me.”
“For example, I found a tiny 'factory' in the Philippines that weaves fabrics from pineapple fibres on five handlooms. Beautiful fabrics and probably the most sustainable product imaginable - a waste product from pineapples that is normally left to rot on the plantations or burnt. Now, the farmers get a little extra income, the fibres are extracted by hand, spun and woven by hand. Without any use of machines, without any chemicals,” enthuses Huesken.
“But of course this ‘factory’ does not have a certificate, which is required in Germany or Europe to classify a product as sustainable. But I used it anyway. The shoe still has many certificates because we always use certified recycled polyester for the stitching and laces. The insole is made of recycled EVA and cork, the lining is made of recycled cotton and banana fibres, among other things, but we don't have a certificate for this particular upper.”
Producing at small, established family-run businesses
When it came to finding factories, Huesken relied on existing contacts with family-run businesses and decided on China as the production country as it offers short transportation routes to all sustainable materials, practically all of which are sourced in Asia. In addition, according to Huesken, China offers an “excellent infrastructure in all respects” (some of the materials still have to be further processed to make them usable for the shoes) and transport by train, as the old Silk Road has been reopened.
“The shoes are manufactured in the Chinese province of Fujian. It's a small factory that I worked with for years before Genesis. It's a family-run business; all the people are well paid, there are no migrant workers and the production has always been of the highest quality and ecological standards. At first, this factory did not have a Fairtrade label either, but then, at my insistence, it received the BSCI Fairtrade certification without any problems,” recounts Huesken.
Paying it forward - donating to environmental organisations
A portion of Genesis' profits is donated to charitable causes and environmental organisations - currently the Sea Shepherd’s Mission, the Surf Rider Foundation and One Earth - One Ocean. The selection is based on circular criteria: “We use a lot of recycled materials; so it's about waste reduction. So it was natural for me to support organisations that work on cleaning oceans and beaches. It's an attempt to close the circle: Waste is collected, sneakers are made from it and the proceeds are used to support waste collection again. In addition, I surf myself and especially the Surfrider Foundation, which among other things organises Beach Cleaning Days worldwide, was close to my heart. Sea Shepherd's is simply a nobly motivated, but at the same time very uncompromising organisation whose approach I really like," explains Huesken.
How are Genesis sneakers received?
“The sneakers are well received by retailers who stand for sustainability or who are prepared to advise or inform customers accordingly. The target group includes all people who like to shop consciously and reflectively. Genesis is not only meant to be sustainable in the sense of ‘made from sustainable materials’; the shoe is designed to last a particularly long time. Only then does it become real sustainability.”Images: courtesy of Genesis