FASHION A shoe made from plants? That’s exactly what Zen Running Club has achieved, writes Elyse Glickman
Netherlands-based Zen Running Club is entering the athleisure race at just the right time. According to co-founder Dominic Sinnott, however, slow and steady—not fast fashion—is what will help the start-up win that race among an increasingly selective and diverse customer base. The ZR01, the company’s inaugural shoe, certainly embraces the current fashion mindset, where comfort and fitness have driven personal tastes, and sustainability has become as important a feature as durability.
Of course, it never hurts to start with a catchy tagline (‘made from good decisions’), or the value proposition of the shoe being practically weightless. However, with a 100 per cent plant-based, vegan and unisex all-purpose shoe as the gateway product, the Berlin-based Sinnott adds that it was just as important that the environmentally sound construction, comfortable materials, and lifestyle appeal would be evident from the moment customers laid eyes on them. The shoe, being a Vegetarian Society approved vegan product with an fsc-certified natural rubber outsole, stregnthens their credibility even with the company being just a few months old.
‘While the ZR01 was designed as a proper technical running shoe, we wanted to cross over into lifestyle where people could treat it as true athleisure, where it could be put on to go into town or to go for a run but not necessarily look like a jogger [running shoe],’ says Sinnott, who also owns a creative–branding agency handling fashion and lifestyle clients and has been friends with partners Richard Rusling, a former Adidas executive, and Andy Farnworth prior to their partnering up for the project.
‘For the serious runner, the shoe is engineered to be light, fast, and responsive, with a stacked rocker mid-sole that helps propel you forward as you run,’ he continues. ‘The clean, minimalist æsthetic, however, fits everybody as it can be styled any way the wearer wants, for whatever he or she is doing.’
As Sinnott sees it, the company will move forward as both a marathon with a few sprints thrown in for good measure. The Zen Running Club’s first shoe soft-launched in November 2021 with a campaign using relatable, real-life people as the models to draw folks on the go in the UK, US and Europe to its website. In the next few months, he projects the shoe (whose US base is in New Jersey) will be poised to go into ‘a curated group of retail fashion and running gear stores in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Berlin’ before heading to other regions.
We caught up with Sinnott at an intimate launch party in the Los Angeles Downtown Arts’ District, where attendees could enjoy wholesome snacks, try on the shoes (available in several wardrobe-friendly colours, including charcoal grey, royal blue, a loden green, yellow, and white), and see some of its other products including bamboo-based Ts and socks.
Lucire: A lot of companies are using the current plant-based Zeitgeist to tell their story. How do you describe the shoes to transcend a brand story to instead be a substantiation?
Dominic Sinnott: The shoe is predominantly made from plants. The beauty of the eucalyptus fabric is that it is moulded rather than cut. In the green shoe for example, two different coloured green threads not only combine for a rich hue but deliver durability and breathability. It’s also digitally knit with different zones so it moulds to the shape of the wearer’s foot and stays in place. Also, instead of creating the uppers from a piece of cloth and a pattern, with leftover fabric getting thrown away, it is constructed to be self-contained. The rocker mid-sole and cushion, meanwhile, are constructed with sugar cane with some recycled [rubber] elements as it can’t entirely be sugar cane at this time. The inner sock liner is made from castor beans. All components are grown without any industrial farming involved or other processes added that will add to the carbon footprint.
As the ZR01 will be compared with a few similar looking shoes, how are you further setting it apart without compromising the company’s values or long-run goals?
As we are going for minimum branding, we have a stamp with our logo printed inside the shoe with sustainable ink as well as another moulded inside the bottom of the sole. Having a visible logo would go against our ideal of using what is necessary as placing it on would involve extra processing. It’s lightweight and has a “rocking sole” toward the front that allows you to roll into the next stride rather than hit the next step hard. If you are running down a path or running between errands, there will be less strain on your feet and leg joints. The sock-like upper conforms to the foot.
Why start with just one shoe when comparable brands have more colours and styles available?
We hope to change the industry by not glutting the market-place with too many shoes that are not sustainable. When we started to develop the idea of the shoe into a tangible concept over two years ago, covid slowed down business. However, it gave us time to fully develop the concept of this brand and its initial offering. This means that the first shoe we have introduced will allow people to get to know us and what we’re about, which will then create a demand for more products and styles.
What are some of these things coming down the road?
Among other shoe styles in development, we have trail-walking shoes with coffee ground-based soles, bamboo running shorts, eucalyptus performance socks, and T-shirts made from rose petals. •
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