You don’t often hear people in the fashion industry refer to shoes as “torture contraptions”. But anyone who’s squeezed their feet into stilettos on a regular basis might be inclined to agree with Rosetta Getty’s rather grisly description of fashion’s most commonly found footwear. As a businesswoman, mother-of-four and member of one of America’s pre-eminent families, Getty doesn’t have the time or patience to hobble along in poorly designed shoes. “It’s not a good feeling to be suffering all day when your feet are aching and you can’t bear to take another step because you have a blister,” she says.
This insistence on functionality is one of the reasons Getty has this season partnered with Ecco, the Danish footwear brand renowned for its orthopedically approved shoes, to create a collection of clogs. “I wanted something that really supports us through the long days of working and picking up kids and all the other things we do,” says Getty from Los Angeles, where the designer is based. But another and more pressing reason for the collaboration is in its eco-credentials: the leather has been tanned using Ecco’s water-saving technology, DriTan. Developed over five years at the company’s labs, the process is estimated to save 20 litres of water per hide, equating to over 20 million litres of water a year.
“Water consumption is a huge issue across every fashion sector,” says Ecco creative director Liam Maher. “We’re highly aware of how urgently our entire industry needs to challenge manufacturing norms if we are going to improve and distinguish shoemaking in the future.”
Of all the industry’s bad habits, tanning is one of the least environmentally friendly. Not only are traditional methods extremely water-intensive, it also results in a leftover “sludge”, often containing harmful chemicals, that goes into landfill. In some instances, contamination from this process can find its way into water supplies – a huge problem for those communities that depend on the industry for employment. DriTan technology relies on the natural moisture that already exists within each hide to help with the tanning process, therefore reducing the amount of water needed and the amount of leftover waste – Ecco estimates it will save 600 tonnes of sludge going into landfill each year.
Clean water is an issue close to Getty’s heart. Nearly a decade ago, she travelled to Haiti to provide aid following the 2010 earthquake and saw first-hand the issues that arise from unsanitary water. In response, she and actress Patricia Arquette – a friend since childhood – founded GiveLove, an organisation that provides emergency resources and training for water-scarce communities, including Colombia, Uganda, Kenya, India and the US.
“Travelling to Haiti opened my eyes to the importance of clean water and the damage that arises when waterways are polluted,” says Getty. “When we talk about the environmental damage from the garment industry, the leather tanning and dyeing process is a huge part of it.”
DriTan leather is near indistinguishable in terms of feel and quality from the kind usually used in luxury products – which means there was no compromise in incorporating it into Getty’s high-end collections (the shoes retail from $395). “I’ve always wanted to make something that’s beautiful and feels very luxurious but also supports our lifestyles and our priorities,” says Getty. The collection, which is influenced by the clean lines of the Bauhaus movement, comprises four styles, all of which are designed around the traditional clog and include an open and closed-toe design, a sneaker-style and even a Chelsea boot hybrid. The palette goes from blood-red or lemon-yellow to beige, black and white.
As well as using sustainable materials, the shoes are made with Ecco’s FluidForm technology, which connects the sole to the upper of the shoe without stitching or chemical glue. “Every single aspect of the shoe – from the materials to the design – takes the environment into consideration,” says Getty. While Ecco started using DriTan in its production last year, this collaboration marks the first time a luxury house has tapped into the technology. Maher says Ecco is now looking at ways to upscale the technique in its own business and beyond. “The team is envisioning a time in the not-so-distant future when tanneries unconnected to Ecco could use the DriTan process.”
Getty sees this as the start of something big: “At the moment it’s being used in a small way, but the sky’s the limit. It’s going to make such a huge difference.”