#FootwearFocus - A Chat with Petra Baiba Olehno
Updated: Feb 28
We were delighted to get some time with Petra Baiba Olehno, Founder and Managing Director of REPAIREL. Because of our campaign's central focus on long-life shoes, Petra was an obvious person to talk to out of Scotland's ever-flourishing sustainability circles. Read on to find out loads more about the footwear industry, and Petra's exciting plans to address issues between repair, circularity and accessibility for everyone.
ApparelXchange: Can you tell us a little about your connection to footwear?
Petra Baiba Olehno: For me footwear isn't a passion per se. It is an entry point for tackling the climate emergency. It is a sector that is responsible for 1.5% of the global carbon impacts and enormous levels of human suffering, but that by large has avoided attention, scrutiny and taking responsibility for its impacts. As a global industry with an international supply and value chain it provides a broad enough representation of the wider socio-economic system and issues that are endemic in other global industries. At the same time it isn't as overwhelmingly massive of a sector as the whole apparel and fashion industry, which gives our work at REPAIREL a targeted focus.
AXC: How do you feel about preloved or second-hand shoes?
PBO: I believe second-hand is the way to go, even in regards to footwear. Furthermore, I believe it is a more ethical and sustainable option than buying new, including new footwear by ethical/sustainable brands. We have to reduce the amount of stuff we put out into the world. We don't need any more apparel (including footwear), what we need is more reuse, repair and increase in quality, modularity and repairability of our stuff.
Something that is currently missing in the offering for second-hand shoes and what we want to offer through REPAIREL is refurbished second-hand footwear and affordable repair options. Way too often when you buy second-hand footwear it is in need of basic repairs (like heel replacement) that could increase its lifespan 2-3x. Nevertheless, repair has become almost a luxury - only affordable to the affluent classes. People with less means are trapped in a cycle of buying cheap low-quality shoes that don't last as long, discard them and buy new footwear more frequently.
We need alternatives that meet people's needs and resources, such as affordable refurbished second-hand footwear, service-based retail models (i.e. footwear as a service) and self-repair hubs (i.e. hubs providing tools and guidance for you to repair your own footwear at an accessible cost).
AXC: Do you have any second-hand favourites in your own or in your kid’s wardrobe? Could you tell us a wee bit about how you got them and why they're loved?
PBO: Most of my shoes are second-hand, but ones that I treasure the most are a pair of Doc Martens that were passed on to me by one of my best friends when she left Glasgow and moved back to Australia. They are great shoes and the fact that they found their way to me through a friend makes them even really special and remind me of our friendship.
AXC: What do you see for the future of footwear? Do you think we’re doing enough to care for people and the planet?
PBO: The current model of footwear production and consumption isn't sustainable in the long run and represents a false economy at the expense of the environment and people across the supply and value chain. There is an urgent need for change. As Tansy Hoskins rightly puts it: “The shoe industry is far behind the rest of the fashion industry in terms of wages, conditions and corporate standards. Every nexus of shoemaking is in crisis. The job of the modern-day shoe workers remains rife with noxious fumes, toxic chemicals and poverty wages. The impact of footwear upon the biosphere, upon animals and the living world remains unconscionable” .
We need to challenge the current state of the industry and also look at the wider systemic issues such as overproduction and overconsumption. Currently, 24+ billion shoes are produced every year. That's 3 pairs of shoes per person on the planet per year. Shoes should last longer than a year. The current system is unsustainable and we cannot and should not just replace linear overproduction with circular overproduction. Overproduction on a finite planet that has finite resources is unsustainable full stop. We need to have an honest and inclusive dialogue about what needs are we really trying to meet with the things that we buy, such as mountains of shoes. Are these things or the process of buying them really meeting our needs or are they only meeting the needs of the market while compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
AXC: What’s your one top tip to look after our shoes and make them look better for longer?
PBO: I have 3:
(1) Condition and polish your shoes (regularly) - this simple step will increase their longevity, make them more water and weather proof plus also make them look better. There are products for conditioning and waterproofing shoes made from all kinds of materials (cotton, synthetic, etc) not only leather. Google them.
(2) Use shoe lasts - this will help to retain their shape and prevent them from cracking and deforming.
(3) Rotate your shoes (i.e. don't wear the same pair of shoes every single day) - to allow them to fully dry. Here in Scotland a lot of us tend to live in our shoes all day long. But due to the high levels of indoor humidity our shoes don't always fully dry overnight which is great for bacteria but bad for your feet and nose.
We at REPAIREL are currently working on a pilot project for one of our concepts and are looking for donations of any Doc Martens shoes - in any size and any condition (anything from a slight wear and tear to a split sole and broken leather is still good for us).*
Thank you so much to Petra for taking the time to contribute to our #FootwearFocus month! A really insightful and eye opening interview.
*We are delighted to support Petra's call out for donations of Doc Martens - so if you would like to arrange this with us, just contact in the usual way by DM'ing us on socials or WhatsApp 07383572327.