Trash Planet: University of the Arts London Alumni & Friends Interview
Text from original article: https://www.arts.ac.uk/alumni-and-friends/stories/trash-planet
Trash Planet: meet the LCF graduate making sustainable sneakers fashionable
Trash Planet is a sustainable sneaker brand started by London College of Fashion, UAL graduate Holly Boxall which launched earlier this year.
Holly Boxall always wanted to study at London College of Fashion (LCF) and when she started her BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation, the College’s facilities meant she could fully immerse herself; “having access to an industry-standard footwear workshop helped in the realisation of my designs, and allowed me to fully understand the process behind making all types of footwear.”
The support of the tutors and the network of alumni and industry contacts was also an invaluable resource. In second-year, whilst on a part-time internship at luxury start-up Camilla Elphick (also an LCF alumna), Holly experienced the day-to-day working in a professional design office; “it was this experience which planted the entrepreneurial seed and motivated me to one day create my own footwear brand.”
After graduation, Holly worked at a global footwear brand, where her eyes were opened to the sheer scale the fashion and footwear industry has on the environment; “the job made me question why the government and the big corporations weren’t doing more to solve this problem. I decided to try and do something about it.”
Holly puts it very bluntly; “Things have been getting worse year on year – we’re in a climate emergency – there are more and more fires, more hurricanes – more natural disasters. The fashion industry hasn’t done enough – why are these global corporations allowed to pollute riverways, oceans – just our planet in general, and get away with it? Who do you point the finger at? The government could step in.”
There’s also the issue of greenwashing. Consumers are blindsided by attractive marketing terms such as ‘ethical’ or ‘organic’, without brands having to explain anything in detail. “There’s still no transparency on where [products are] made” such as their supply chain or how much of the fabric is recycled, or a breakdown of all the costings.
Holly started a master’s in business, and it was whilst on the course that she met Jordan, the other half of Trash Planet. Jordan’s background in advertising, and experience running a vegan food business provided the perfect balance to Holly’s background in design, and they spent the next year researching everything to do with sustainable design. Their own experiences of struggling to find sustainable, on-trend sneakers, was confirmed by their research, “not everyone who is trying to be more conscious when buying footwear wants to wear minimalistic plimsolls.”
This became their focus; to create vegan and ethical sneakers that are current but won’t go out of style “we really dug into what makes a style ‘timeless’”.
So at the start of this year, when they’d finished their course Holly and Jordan packed up their belongings, took out a start-up loan and drove to Portugal to launch Trash Planet!
Running an ethical business from behind a computer screen didn’t sit well with Holly and Jordan. How do you know what’s going on? Where is everything made? Who’s making the sneakers? “We wanted to get directly involved and be able to meet and work with every single one of our manufacturers and suppliers in person. We wanted to ask them the tough questions face-to-face.”
They also wanted to keep everything in Europe to reduce their carbon footprint and enable them to visit suppliers without having to travel halfway across the planet. Through their research, they found that manufacturers in Portugal were the most open-minded about Trash Planet’s vision; “they were willing to work together in creating the chunky sole moulds for the Billie design, and experiment with different recycled materials to create the best outcome.”
Trash Planet also ensure that they give back to the environment by planting 15 trees for every pair of sneakers sold. “We’ve tried to check every box. As a start-up, we’re really flexible in the way the work – we’re always testing new things and we’re able to adapt very quickly. Whilst we won’t be saving the planet alone anytime soon, we’re definitely making an impact – we’ve already planted nearly 2,000 trees in our mangroves in Madagascar, which absorb 2 - 4 times the amount of carbon as terrestrial forests.”
Being sustainable isn’t just about the environment, but the people too, and ensuring people are paid fairly for their work. Trash Planet are in the process of adding a tipping system to their business, “where customers can choose to directly add tips onto their basket at checkout, and these tips will be sent directly to the people making the shoes in Portugal”.
In the beginning, the design process combined trend reports with their own market research and data-informed the designs. But they also represent their target market, “hopefully by designing for ourselves, we have fulfilled the needs of our customers too. We wanted to create designs that are bold and individual but will stay timeless and not just end up in the back of someone’s closet as trends change.”
“All of our materials are vegan and come from recycled sources and/or can be recycled. Our mesh upper is made from 100% recycled plastic, our vegan suede/leather is Oeko-Tex certified and can be recycled. Our lining is made from 70% recycled plastic/30% recycled corn and our Franco soles are made from 70% recycled rubber in a factory which runs off renewable energy and our insoles are made from natural bio-degradable fibres.”
There are of course limitations to the design process; it can depend on what materials they can get their hands-on, and using plant-based and recycled materials can be restrictive as the colour selection is quite limited. There is also the small issue of the current global pandemic, which has meant the launch of their first design has taken 4-months longer than planned.
For Holly and Jordan, the longterm plan is bigger than sneakers; they want to become a platform for artists speak out “about current and ongoing environmental and political issues, so we are working on a few cool collaborations and one-off projects which will hopefully be released early next year.”
But sneakers are still at their heart, and next month Trash Planet is releasing their chunky, sporty style ‘Billie’. "The Billie sneaker is the first design we created and is finally in production and will be released in 6 colourways in the next few weeks. We are also dropping two new colourways of Franco – our first skate style and launching some non-footwear items."