Walking back from a business meeting, management consultant Emilia Higashi quickly developed blisters on her feet. She figured there had to be better way to make women’s shoes – ones more comfortable and also sustainable, made from plants instead of animal or petroleum products.
Soon, she was researching in Italy at the world’s biggest footwear trade show. She fell in love with a design called Saccheto, or little sack, that has minimal seams and fits almost like a sock. Then, she looked worldwide for sustainable plant-based materials, including “leathers” made from wine residues, pineapple fibers, cactus and even algae.
Now, the Miami company she co-founded, Illogical Dreamers, is launching its first product: soft, ballet-style flats made to order. They’re produced from corn “leather,” with an insole from coconut fibers and a sole from natural and recycled rubber. The shoe bottom is stamped with an affirmation aimed to empower women: “Crush and Repeat.” Crafted by artisans in Milan, the shoes are ready within weeks and shipped. The initial price: $300-plus, less than luxury animal-leather flats from Italy, she says.
“What we’re building at Illogical Dreamers is really a sustainable fashion tech platform,” says Higashi. “We want to bring technology to an industry that is lagging behind in digital transformation to improve the supply chain and customer experience, using artificial intelligence, augmented reality and data in the entire process.” The company aims to perfect its process to make shoes to order in as little as four days.
Higashi has plenty of experience in building companies. Born in Brazil to a family of Japanese descent, she studied business and marketing in Brazil, Canada and the United States before working six years in Sao Paolo with a management consulting firm, handling projects that extended to Europe and China. She moved to the Miami area more than a decade ago to help a Brazilian company enter the U.S. market and has since launched a wellness startup and worked with many diverse businesses.
She co-founded Illogical Dreamers with Marcus Kawamura, an award-winning creative director and designer known for branding and digital advertising. Kawamura has held top roles with ad agencies in Brazil and the United States, including Miami-founded Crispin Porter Bogusky.
So far, their venture works with a team of four people in Miami. They’re looking to bring on a tech co-founder, says Higashi. The company has self-funded to date, but now is preparing a Kickstarter campaign and later, will seek angel investors to scale up and broaden its fashion offerings, she says.
“We’re already talking to other players to expand our product portfolio to boots, tennis shoes and sandals. And it’s not only shoes. We’re building a sustainable fashion brand that later can have handbags and other items,” says Higashi. For every sale, Illogical Dreamers will plant a tree and also donate 1 percent of profits to the artisans who make its products, helping them to transition to more sustainable materials.
The launch comes as the fashion industry faces criticism for its hefty environmental impact and more footwear companies embrace sustainability. San Francisco-based Rothy’s, for example, now makes shoes from recycled plastic bottles, while New Zealand-American venture Allbirds makes shoes and accessories from wool and plant “leathers” that include sugar cane, among other natural materials.
Higashi says over time, she expects the price of Illogical Dreamers’ footwear to drop to more directly compete with those two brands, whose shoes now retail for roughly $100 to $200 per pair. By then, her venture might even have specialty plant-based shoes, perhaps crafted from specific wine residues. Anyone want Cabernet Sauvignon flats made to order this week for an upcoming wine-tasting event?
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