Insecta Shoes makes sustainability sexy with ecological fashion

Rachel Hickey - March 3, 2020 Barbara Mattivy, CEO and co-founder of Insecta Shoes, makes sustainable footwear from materials like recycled waterbottles, cardboard and upcycled fabric.
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The fashion industry is one of the biggest in the world, accounting for two per cent of global gross domestic product. It’s also now one of the biggest polluters in the world — second only to oil. The reason? Fast fashion.

The term ‘fast fashion’ refers to cheaply produced and priced garments that copy the latest catwalk styles and get pumped quickly through stores in order to maximize on current trends. The environmental impact of this behaviour is significant: the clothing and textile industry is depleting non-renewable resources, emitting huge quantities of greenhouses gases and using massive quantities of energy, chemicals and water. The synthetic fibres often favoured by fast fashion brands, such as polyester, nylon and acrylic, are a kind of plastic made from petroleum — which means they could take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade.

So what does this really mean for environmental sustainability, and what role do companies play to halt its spread? In order to move past fast fashion and into a more sustainable industry, we all have to be on the same page about what exactly we’re pushing against. 

Barbara Mattivy, CEO and co-founder of Insecta Shoes, a brand offering vegan and ecological shoes and accessories made in Brazil, is doing just that.

Mattivy, who’s based in Toronto, has a strong background in business, digital marketing and fashion. She’s seen first-hand the alarming effects the fast fashion industry has on the environment. “With the rising success of fast fashion, we have begun to buy a lot of things that we don’t need because they are so cheap. Things are just piling up, and we don’t know how to recycle those clothes properly, which results in chaos,” she says.

“It doesn’t make sense to me as an entrepreneur to do things the way we’re doing.”

Taking a modern approach to a vintage look

After graduating from business school, trying different roles in radio, banking, marketing and running her own content marketing agency in the fashion industry, Mattivy found herself longing for more freedom to make something of her own.

“Sometimes when you’re working with clients, especially big clients, you don’t have much freedom to do whatever you feel like doing,” she says.

And she did work with big clients. She helped brands like Converse and Keds with their digital marketing. And through that work, she gained a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the fashion industry and its issues, even beyond the problematic nature of fast fashion.

“Things are just piling up, and we don’t know how to recycle those clothes properly, which results in chaos.”

– Barbara Mattivy, CEO and co-founder of Insecta Shoes

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At the same time, Mattivy — a fan of fashion herself — missed having unique options that fast fashion just didn’t offer. In fact, the only way it seemed she could find unique pieces was by going back in time, reviving unique, thrifted, vintage patterns and styles. 

“I noticed there were no developments in the Brazil market for well-curated vintage clothing. So I decided to create one,” she adds. 

Tired of always seeing the same fashions all the time, Mattivy decided to solve this problem by opening her own curated vintage shop in Brazil. After two years of operating, she again felt the need to pivot. Like many of her creative ventures, this happened spontaneously.

“One day a friend of mine was visiting to see some of the clothing. Her work involved recycling fabric to make her shoes, and when she noticed a few dresses with unique patterns I had put aside that needed to be mended, she proposed we do a collaboration,” she says.

“We handcrafted 20 shoes in this fashion and they sold out in record time. That was six years ago now.”

Ecosexy: where ethics meets aesthetics

As the business kept growing, more sustainable and ambitious materials and manufacturing became available. Today, Insecta Shoes creates brand new shoes from recycled plastic bottles, recycled cotton, recycled rubber, upcycled vintage clothing, deadstock fabrics and production waste that would otherwise be thrown away. Every pattern is always inspired by vintage clothing.

These options made it clear to Mattivity that there was a healthy appetite for what she calls “ecosexy” fashion: the merging of ethics and aesthetics.

This adds another layer to success in sustainable fashion — people who wear fashionable and sustainable clothes are essentially walking activists. “Because our shoes are so unique, customers get so many compliments, which opens up conversation on sustainable fashion and more. People just love spreading the word about our story, which is so, so interesting and so funny,” says Mattivy.

She has a few favourite pieces of her own, too. Mattivy specifically mentions a memorable collaboration between Insecta and Think Olga, an NGO in Brazil that empowers women through content and education. She particularly favours the Herbacea Oxfords, which present a mix of florals, leaves and insects.

“Customers get so many compliments, which opens up conversation on sustainable fashion.”

– Barbara Mattivy

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Among other certifications, Insecta Shoes is a proud a B-corp certified company, meaning they’re recognized for taking responsibility to provide solutions to social and environmental problems and are tasked with creating a positive impact. Part of that means Insecta operates with high standards of management transparency. In 2016, they became the first footwear company in Brazil to achieve this certification and the second fashion company in Brazil to receive this honour.

To date, Insecta Shoes has used more than 21,000 recycled water bottles, 1 ton of recycled cotton, 6,800 kilograms of recycled rubber, 2,000 metres of upcycled fabric, and more than 1,500 kilograms of recycled cardboard boxes in the production of their shoes and accessories. Moving forward, Mattivy is leading her business to continue selling in Brazil and through an international online store, and will begin to host pop-up shops, which Mattiviy expects to be successful.

“It’s so exciting to see something you worked so hard to build in the last six years expanding into new territories.”

– Barbara Mattivy

“This is the year of expansion at Insecta. It’s so exciting to see something you worked so hard to build in the last six years expanding into new territories,” she adds. “It’s a dream come true.”

And she can’t wait to see more people in North America sporting sustainable accessories, she adds.

“I hope that more and more people also come to love and continue to have fun with our shoes, as they’re a true conversation-starter!”

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