Shoes made of textiles containing hemp – like the warming Chestnut model or the slip-on Kami with its insole made of hemp-flax fleece – are not only comfortable to wear, but also results of Wildling Shoes' occupation with hemp as a regenerative material. Milestones on a journey that will go on for a long time – and on which we will be accompanied by great partners with VirgoCoop.
There is a very specific plant that can contribute a lot to regenerative value creation: Hemp. This grows, pardon the expression, like weeds, in almost all climatic zones and can do without both fertilizers and pesticides. The industrial plant, which can be processed into yarn and woven, does not even need a lot of water. Too good to be true? Well, maybe a little.
In Europe, one has to look for a long time before coming across production facilities that process hemp – and if it is also to be cultivated in Europe, it will be even more difficult. But that would be important. Because using hemp, which has to travel halfway around the world, although it could just as well grow on your own doorstep, would be pretty much the opposite of Re:generation.
European hemp is already featured in material blends of various Wildling Shoes models. In the long term, Wildling Shoes hopes to establish a permanent supply chain of its own for European hemp, which grows as close as possible to Wildling Shoes production sites. Whoever wears a model made with hemp today is already an active part of a history that is constantly being rewritten. And this is how:
Cooperation for regeneration
Wildling Shoes has been researching long before the current results – not only for responsible sources of supply that can be used quickly, but also for a long-term possibility of bringing the processing of industrial hemp back to life in Europe. The vision: To use more hemp from responsible processing, to fully utilize the properties of the plant and to restore all this knowledge that existed in Europe for so long before prohibition. To achieve all this, one first needs to assess the hurdles one will face.
Material sample in the Wildling Shoes studio; Image: Stefano Chiolo | Wildling Shoes
„We have been looking for partners who want to rebuild the entire supply chain for industrial hemp in Europe with us for a long time,“ says Kristin, who works as a Product Lead Sustainability at the interface to Product and Supply Chain. „Finally, we came across our partner in France, who shares our vision of making all the knowledge more widely available: VirgoCoop.“
VirgoCoop is a cooperative that promotes environmentally and socially responsible projects. „Basically, VirgoCoop mediates between farmers, spinning mills, weaving mills and the processing companies. The managing director and co-founder Mathieu and his team are trying to bring those together who have the right expertise and are interested in participating.“
VirgoCoop thus functions as a link between all the actors it needs to rebuild supply chains.
Conversation with VirgoCoop in the Wildling Atelier; Photo: Stefano Chiolo | Wildling Shoes
“Our first project is the renewal of the textile, organic and fair trade hemp sector in France,” explains Mathieu, who used to work as a humanitarian aid worker. His network's expertise plays a major role in Wildling Shoes' industrial hemp projects. For example, as a doctor of biochemistry, VirgoCoop employee Julien maintains an intensive exchange with French farmers to test best practices in manual and general regenerative cultivation.
Huge wealth of knowledge
Wilding and VirgoCoop are working together on the next steps of the collaboration. Currently, an upper made of 100% hemp is not yet realistic for Wildling minimal shoes. Therefore, procurement possibilities for mixed fabric blends are discussed as well as the opportunities VirgoCoop's partner network opens up beyond that.
The minds behind VirgoCoop have acquired a huge wealth of knowledge over many years and have a keen eye for good prospects, but also for potential hurdles. Clara, Project Manager Sustainable Sourcing at Wildling, sees it this way, "I love how there's this option but this problem or that option but that problem." As we are used to at Wildling: Challenges are taken rather lightly and open-minded, because it is clear to everyone involved in this partnership: Together we are working towards long-term progress in matters of Re:generation.
VirgoCoop are exploring opportunities for the production of hemp yarns all across Europe. Whether a supply chain for industrial hemp in Wildling shoes, which is based exclusively in one country (for example, Germany or Portugal, because of the proximity to the Wildling Shoes production facilities) is reasonable and feasible has yet to be jointly determined. Because for a stable supply chain, one always depends on third-party suppliers, processors and, finally, on the availability of the right machines.
But in the end, the vision is: If more companies were to participate in this knowledge and incorporate it into their structures, for example, part of cotton production could be replaced by hemp. Wouldn't that be a good prospect?
Cover image: Wildling Shoes