How This Footwear Brand Is Stepping Into The Future
We speak to Marre, Founder of ESSĒN about how her footwear brand is taking extra steps to create a conscious brand prioritising not only planet friendly materials but also celebrating craft.
Tell us about your journey so far and what led you to start ESSĒN?
Before I started ESSĒN, I tried various jobs in the fashion and creative industries and it took me a bit of time to find my footing, if I’m honest. The more I worked in the industry, the more I understood how it was missing the mark and needed to redirect itself to be more responsible and considered, more inclusive and less compromising in its products and processes.
The longer I worked in the industry the more I craved a slower pace and more conscious approach to fashion. Despite working in the footwear industry, I could not find good quality, timeless shoes that were comfortable and ethically made.
After having this conversation with friends one too many times, I decided I was going to try and create the perfect capsule of quality wardrobe staples myself. ESSĒN is about versatile dressing so you can minimize what’s in your wardrobe. We offer a permanent collection of no-compromise staples: timeless classics that are reimagined in new ways that feel chic without any effort. Moving away from trends and traditional seasons and not being focused on the fashion calendar allows me to take the time and utmost care when designing the shoes to ensure lasting appeal.
What was the mission of ESSĒN / What's the meaning behind the name?
ESSĒN stands for essentials. On a mission to edit out wardrobe excess, ESSĒN offers a complete collection of footwear classics. With a focus on superior quality, timeless design, small batch production and a transparent supply chain, ESSĒN champions conscious production and consumption practices while articulating a vision of uncompromising quality and eternally coveted style.
Using conscious materials is at the heart of the brand, could you share the process of how an item is made using these materials?
With every ESSĒN style we create, we carefully consider the environmental and social impact of a product across its entire life cycle. Leather is incredibly durable and can be eco-friendly when used correctly, so we exclusively use LGW-gold and silver certified leathers, which means that all our tanneries have undergone an environmental impact audit by the Leather Working Group (LWG) to ensure they comply with the required supply chain protocols.
Taking this same mindset to our detailing and packaging, we use 100% recycled metals for our hardware, our shoeboxes are made from FSC-certified paper and soy-based inks, and our orders ship in 100% recycled and reusable packaging from REPACK.
Circularity and sustainability in footwear is still extremely difficult to achieve. Shoes are typically made from a variety of different materials that are engineered to stick together, making them near impossible to disassemble. In order to make a business truly sustainable, the design process must always be exploring and creating better systems and thinking about each part of the supply chain in a holistic way.
When we look at how a brand is sustainable it can be referring to the ingredients, social impacts, packaging, shipping etc. Which areas would you say ESSĒN is most sustainable?
Sustainability is a mindset. Once you’ve started questioning things and opened your eyes, it will naturally infiltrate everything you do. ESSĒN is built on a foundation of conscious design, considered consumption and ethical production. Every decision we make is underlined by these guiding principles.
At the design stage, it’s about creating shoes that will last a lifetime. We work with durable raw materials that have minimum impact on the environment and the people that work with them, such as chrome free and aniline leathers and recycled rubber and metals.
Once a design is finalised, I will only ever produce in small batch production or entirely on-demand, to avoid overproduction and minimise up to 90% of waste. When you place an order with ESSĒN, you’re getting something that’s been handmade especially for you in ethical, solar powered factories by expert artisans who have been making shoes for generations.
Even our logistics have been carefully considered – we’re based in Australia but our fulfilment centre is in Europe, close to where the factories are. This allows us to produce in small batches and keep minimum stock levels, but respond quickly when a certain style or size sells, all whilst keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible.
In order to illustrate the sustainability impact of our products to customers prior to purchase we recently partnered with the independent platform Renoon to take our transparency efforts to the next level. Using blockchain technology and on-demand analysis, Renoon gathers and verifies information to show the complete product journey and determine each product’s compliance state. This information is then displayed across multiple points with the Digital Product Passport and QR code, scannable from your shoebox.
We’ve always been proud of the hard work that goes into crafting our shoes and their stories, and together we can now translate the information and certifications we already have into verified and verifiable values.
I always remind myself and my team that it’s progress, not perfection that we’re pursuing. We are committed to making more responsible choices wherever possible so it's easier for customers to make them too.
Following on from the previous question, also which areas are you looking to improve in the future?
The introduction of Renoon’s transparency technology has been great at not only measuring our holistic impact but also highlighting the areas that need improvement. My key focus will be on material innovation and working towards more circular designs.
Which product or collection are you most excited about currently and why?
We’re introducing a capsule jewellery collection in a few weeks that is made from 100% recycled, locally sourced precious metals. The Drop Earrings, in particular, have been carefully designed with a seamless clasp system that enables the earring to also adorn our bestselling styles, The Evening Sandal and The Strappy Sandal. The dual wearability of the new range is aligned with the ESSEN's sustainable approach to design, where quality over quantity reigns supreme, encouraging customers to buy less and choose better.
What’s next for the brand?
I’ve been researching sustainable leather alternatives which is a big undertaking and we’re planning on opening an ESSEN space in Melbourne in the next year too. My focus has always been on slow and sustainable growth, but I have big dreams. I'm hopeful I can balance both and create meaningful impact through the work we do at ESSEN.