Panafrica ethical shoes are definitely some of the coolest fashions coming from Africa right now
By Chere Di Boscio
When you think of ethical or vegan shoes, lots of brands come to mind: Rothy’s, TOMS, Stella McCartney, or Beyond Skin, for example. They’re usually American or European brands, and rarely will a Made-In-Africa label get mentioned. But Panafrica ethical shoes is set to change that!
The brand was created five years ago by three associates: Hugues, Vulfran and Hélène. Each one had very strong links to Africa, be it through their ethnic origins, professional career, or travels. These connections and a bit of ambition led to the founding of a colourful vegan brand that’s making some serious waves!
Their main inspiration was from the colours and vegan fabrics that have origins in West Africa. The trio wanted to find a way to wear these fabrics every day, in a modern, urban way, and to merge them into sneakers – footwear the founders are particularly obsessed with.
But then the question of the environment came up. The three decided it was essential to make the most positive impact on the planet and people as possible. Consequently, they decided to completely rethink the sneaker’s value chain and to build their own model instead. Since their inspiration came from Africa, it was just logical to produce their shoes there too. But…in which part of that huge continent?
Ultimately, Panafrica ended up partnering with artisans in Morocco, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. These workers are at the very heart of the Panafrica project, as I discovered.
I asked one of the founders, Vulfran, a few questions to get to know more about this stylish vegan shoe label.
Getting To Know More About Panafrica Ethical Shoes
You work with so many countries in Africa! Tell us a bit about some of your favourite African textile traditions
The creation of batik canvas is a fascinating process. Batik is the artisanal ancestor to wax fabric. It involves patterns, wax, baths, natural dyeing, lots of imagination and techniques that are handed down from generation to generation. As a result, each piece of canvas is unique and looks like an original art piece.
We created a model with French designer Agnès b that I love. The shoe is a slip on, without any laces and it gives all the space to highlight the creativity and the beautiful colours on your feet.
I know your workers are at the heart of what you do, but they’re from all different backgrounds in Africa. How do you determine what constitutes a fair wage for such international workers?
At Panafrica, a fair pricing policy is the key to greater peace for all. The prices of our partners are ours. They are fair and allow a sustainable development of the partner’s companies. Our wage payments are representative of the quality of working conditions and materials used. Our consumer prices are representative of the fair wages we pay to workers, wages that allow them to live peacefully and to support their families.
But because it is essential not to create an interdependence between Panafrica and our partners, we are committed to supporting the implementation of projects, that are essential to the sustainable development of local structures so they can remain independent.
Thus, 10% of our profits are donated to finance training and material investment. This includes entrepreneurship courses, training in ecological techniques, purchase of looms, and more.
I hear the pandemic wasn’t as bad in Africa. Has it affected your business, if at all?
At the beginning we weren’t too concerned about the pandemic as it didn’t really affect the countries where our partners are located, as you said. We had just started a crowdfunding campaign that received a great success and, we can notice it now, helped us to maintain our activity.
At the moment, we’re behind schedule on our production but our customers are very understanding, and we should manage to catch it up, without, of course pressuring our workshop.
The big challenge will be for next year, as we work with retailers that are struggling this summer and they might not place new orders for the next season. We’re trying to anticipate this problem, and we’ve decided to review our strategy and to focus on our online sales via our website.
How does your brand fit into the circular economy?
Producing well, with innovative and more environmentally friendly materials (integration of PET and recycled polyester in our collections), is an essential requirement.
But for us, environmental responsibility must go even further and take into account the end-of-life of the products we create and that our customers wear.
So we created the first returnable and recyclable sneaker: the ARUSHA model. The price of ARUSHA model includes a 10 Euro deposit, which invites our customers to send us back their used pair of sneakers.
Because even at the end of its life, a pair of sneakers has a value: its materials can be collected, recycled and used to create new Panafrica ethical shoes. It is a genuine resource and can help us make the most eco-friendly sneakers of them all!
The deposit is a commitment we make together to ensure the circularity of our products, reduce waste and protect the environment.
What are some of your favourite pieces on offer right now?
ARUSHA! Its style is urban, dynamic with a dose of details and patterns… à la PANAFRICA!
We have taken the great codes of running and interpreted them our own way. Batik and wax prints for the graphics and colorful hints, and plain canvas to match it all. And, of course, we used eco friendly and recycled materials.
ARUSHA sneakers are made, at more than 50% of recycled polyester, recycled polyurethane, recycled PET, for the outer plain canvas and the inner lining. Basically, we are using material created from plastic bottles collected from the oceans.
That sounds great! Where can we find you?
Visit our website: www.panafrica-store.com or Agnès b.’s website www.agnesb.eu. You can find a few models there as we recently worked on a collaboration. If you’re in France, you can also find us in stores such as Les Galeries Lafayette, isetann, or Altermundi (which is also around the world).