“We need different answers to the same problem”, says MIRET, a footwear brand based in Zagreb, Croatia.
Footwear is a nasty industry.
Every year, tens of billions of pairs are manufactured in non-transparent conditions, using chemicals that make our hair stand. We’re talking about cancer-causing, nervous system-affecting toxins like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. According to one report, footwear accounts for one-fifth of fashion’s environmental impact. The scariest part is that most shoes are produced to last a season and end up in landfills quickly.
In my firm decision to stop personally supporting such an industry, I struggle. While I often turn to second-hand when needing clothes or accessories, shoes have always been a difficult area. Besides, no matter how much I love resale and thrifting, I am aware that it does not entirely solve the core problem of the industry. And that is how we design, produce, use, and dispose of fashion.
So, my interest spikes whenever I see an ethical brand tackling these fundamental issues.
That only increases when the brand is also from a country dear to me. Come and meet MIRET, a plastic-free footwear brand from Croatia.
From family business to reinventing the industry
Many luxury and high-end European brands manufacture, at least partly, in East and South East Europe. Croatia is no exception, often bearing the consequences of a fast and massive production, hidden behind the idea that a high price must mean ethical production.
Brothers Hrvoje and Domagoj Boljar saw this first-hand.
When they inherited the footwear-manufacturing business from their father, they found themselves in the midst of the industry facing a post-2008 financial crisis. The crisis shook the entire industry, taking their business with it. Yet, despite or perhaps because of the instability and increasing pressures on footwear production, creativity sparked.
During their visits to the supplier factories, Hrvoje became familiar with the process of leather making. Little to say, he did not like what he saw. The waste from these factories is considered a highly toxic waste that needs special handling to dispose of. Even the leather that ends up on our feet will eventually go to waste, only increasing the negative impact.
Quickly, it became clear to the brothers Boljar that the industry needed a reset.
When their old business almost inevitably closed down, the brothers recognised that the moment had arrived. Equipped with deep environmental concern and years of industry experience, they started a journey full of ups and downs. MIRET was born.
Recycled plastic is like curing the symptoms
From the start, MIRET took ethics and the future of fashion as their responsibility.
“That should not be the consumer’s burden. As a brand, it is up to us to take responsibility and make products that will not contribute to the problems,” they shared with me during our initial video chat. They further explained that consumers shouldn’t have to choose between what they want and what is sustainable. Sustainable, toxic-free options should be readily available as a norm on the market.
Besides avoiding leather, MIRET is also on a mission to eliminate all plastic from the industry.
Usually, when we speak about plastic and fashion, we think of polyester in our clothes. However, every time we wear plastic materials, even on our feet, they release microplastics into the air and our water systems.
“Microplastic pollution is just one part of the industry’s problem that we do not want to contribute to”, MIRET explains. For that, that includes recycled plastic too.
Though favoured by some, recycled plastic and polyester are not the circular solution fashion is looking for. Regardless of the source, we can recycle plastic only a handful of times before losing its quality. As MIRET puts it: “Recycled plastic is like curing the symptoms instead of disease. We are more interested in long-term answers to the problem.”
It took them six years to find those answers and fully develop their idea. Today, they stand out in the market with their choice of materials.
(Hrvoje Boljar talking about materials. Courtesy of MIRET.)
MIRET found a way to make 97% natural sneakers while keeping transparency at the heart of their processes.
In their own words: “We never make claims that we cannot support. People come to us with a lot of questions-and rightly so. We make sure to give them concrete answers. No hiding, no fluff, only what we can actually do.”
Currently, MIRET makes sneakers hemp, linen, cork, eucalyptus, natural rubber, and wool. These come from partners that support biodiversity, regeneration and fair trade. They source the materials from the EU, with the exception of wool and natural rubber. Though they would like an entirely local supply chain and hope to do so in the future, it is not yet possible. Nonetheless, MIRET verifies each supplier individually and can trace the origin and production of everything that goes into their sneakers.
“Of course,” they add, “our sneakers are proudly made in Croatia. That is important to our consumers and us.”
So, what is the other 3% of their materials?
The remaining 3% are synthetic thread and glue that ensure the durability of the sneakers. At the moment, there is no better solution available to them. In the meantime, they constantly seek to remove even that little part of synthetics from their products.
MIRET stresses that it is not about being perfect but improving at every step. As long as every step, from designing and manufacturing to wearing, is anchored in sustainability. Ultimately, MIRET says, they are in the business of changing attitudes towards how we do things. Having a physical product is just their way of telling a story of an industry that can and should be better.
“Optimism might be our supper power”, they told me at the end of our conversation.
Interested in learning more or looking for a pair of sustainable sneakers? Check out MIRET here.
Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored or in any way influenced by the brand I'm writing about. Everything you read above comes from my conversation with the brand and is my own interpretation of their business.