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Reformation Takes a Second Shot at Sustainable Shoes

Reformation is taking a shot at shoes—again.

Known chiefly for its romantic, pattern-heavy frocks and California cool casual wear, the 12-year-old brand is now planting a stake firmly in the footwear game after a short-lived introductory line in 2019.

On Monday, Reformation launched its second, and wholly different, footwear collection, made up of 18 summer-ready styles designed for weekend wearing. Footwear has long been the No. 1 most requested—and often, most searched—category on Reformation.com, and the Los Angeles women’s wear brand has been quietly working to develop the right partners to support the expansion.

Styling

“Currently, the sustainable shoe market is mostly a sneaker dominated space, and there are virtually no sustainable, fashion-forward shoes out there,” said Joni Pangsaeng, Reformation‘s footwear design and merchandising director. “Our new collection allows our customers to both be sustainable and look cute, without sacrificing one for the other.”

Pangsaeng said Reformation sought to create an assortment that would complement its apparel. “Aesthetically, we were really driven by ’90s-inspired strappy silhouettes and ruching details that can pair well with our vintage-inspired designs,” she said.

Reformation will begin releasing frequent drops of new product in June, she added, underscoring its commitment to footwear as a part of its overall offering. “We will be adding new product about every two weeks,” said Alison Melville, general manager of footwear and accessories. “I really believe that there is an opportunity, and a white space in the market for fashionable sustainable footwear. We’re working on a whole pipeline of product.”

When it comes to the introductory line, however, a retro influence rings true. “We have a lot of thong sandals in our assortment, with the resurgence of the ‘90s,” she said. “We’ve definitely seen this trend coming, and we’re offering it in a variety of ways,” from flat styles to heeled or platform versions with ankle ties.

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“And then on the more soft side of things, we have this offering of printed linen,” she added, pointing to a number of slide sandals with ruched uppers, as well as strappy styles made with printed fabrications. “These are very much the core of Ref’s DNA, when it comes to the attitude. We’re a brand that’s really known for print, so we wanted to make sure that we had print incorporated through footwear as well.” The line also features high heeled, open-toe styles tailor-made for wedding season, as well as a pointed toe snakeskin flat that could pull work-to-weekend duty, and a platform loafer with a croc-embossed leather upper.

“Now that the world is opening back up and customers are getting vaccinated, they’re going to need shoes for the first time in a long time,” Melville said. “I actually think the timing is quite nice, since we’re seeing a huge, huge appetite or our apparel business right now so we know that the customer is ready to leave the house again.”

Sourcing and sustainability

While the first line of shoes wasn’t a flop, Melville, said, there were “a variety of challenges associated with footwear 1.0.”

“I think the sustainability requirements that we wanted to achieve were mismatched with where we had decided to source,” she added, which was chiefly China and Portugal. “So what we did was take a step back and say, ‘let’s build our supply chain around where in the world most of those sustainable resources are available,’” versus “trying to reverse engineer” operations.

Melville said Reformation has worked diligently over the course of the past year in lockdown to optimize a roster of manufacturing and materials partners in Brazil, which is quickly becoming a hotbed for eco-conscious footwear production and innovation.

“One of our requirements has always been and continues to be Leather Working Group gold and silver-rated tanneries, and there’s quite a bunch of options within the hub of Brazilian manufacturing,” she said, referring to the southern part of the South American nation. “Brazil has made a lot of progress on traceability,” Melville said, adding that tanneries are quickly adopting new technology and processes that give brand partners peace of mind.

The company is also working with local artisans who are well-versed in the intricacies of crafting leather footwear. “Some of them are quite small operations, and really renowned factories in the area,” Melville said. “We’re not talking about like massive long automated lines—we’re talking about 70 people in a workshop.”

Upstream in the supply chain, Reformation has also developed relationships with all of its cattle farmers, and “can trace, at the batch level, 97 percent of our skins to the exact farm.” Any textiles used on shoe uppers are sourced from within the company’s apparel supply chain, Melville added. A linen that appears on a handful of styles’ uppers comes from China, she said. Meanwhile, Reformation is cutting out 75 percent of virgin plastics from the shoe’s componentry, instead opting for recycled inputs or other materials.

“I think one of the things I’m most proud of in this campaign is the announcement that we will be able to recycle 100 percent of the shoes we make,” Melville added. Reformation is striving to become the first U.S. dress shoe brand with a take-back program for reuse, she said, and will unveil more details about the scheme’s consumer-facing aspect in late summer.

For now, she said, the company is nailing down its behind-the-scenes recycling scheme with LoopWorks, a Portland, Ore.-based group that facilitates the reuse of pre- and post-consumer materials. “The end uses for recycled shoes are sport and play fields, slip-resistant matting, and civil engineering applications such as embankment and repair walls,” she added.

“It’s the beginning of our journey toward reusing [used shoes] in our own products—that’s really the end goal,” Melville said. “Our North Star is fully closing that loop and making products from the waste from old products. That’s a long way off, but the first step on the path to getting there is landfill diversion.”