Being ecologically friendly in the early 1990’s wasn’t all that easy. We had just come through the gluttony and excesses of the 80’s and no one had even heard of global warming. Now it seems we are in the midst of a green revolution with hundreds of companies and products claiming the “environmentally conscious” label.
Like every revolution there are those who sew the seeds, and this is the story of one such company; Deja Shoe. Beginning in 1990 Deja Shoe headed by founder Julie Lewis manufactured and marketed a line of shoes made from 100% recycled or renewable raw materials. The shoes were cruelty-free and vegan and 5% of their income was donated to environmental causes. The company used water-based adhesives instead of toxic glues. Even the boxes the shoes came in were printed with soy-ink and contained no glues or staples-they could be refolded and used as storage boxes.
These innovations made retailers take notice, and it wasn’t long before Deja Shoes could be found in stores like Nordtroms, L.L. Bean and REI. In 1994 Deja Shoes was awarded the American Marketing Association’s Edison Award for Environmental Achievemant and the United Nation’s Fashion Industry and the Environment Award. The inscription on the United Nations award hailed the company for its “creative and exemplary initiatives in manufacturing products based on principles of waste reduction and the sustainable use of the Earth’s resources”. In accepting the award, Deja Shoe claimed that it “demonstrates the potential we have in our industry for making environmentalism a meaningful and profitable endeavor.”
The press attention and awards led the National Geographic Society to lead-off its June 1994 cover story on recycling with a feature on Deja shoes. However the company was plagued by quality problems and difficulties sourcing the raw materials. After 5 years and the loss of capital funding the company was forced to liquidate.
Being a trail-blazer is not easy. But we all benefit from this inspired little company today because of companies like EcoSneaks, Patagonia, Worn Again, Green Toe following the trend and incorporating more environmentally friendly material in their shoes. Even Reebok and Nike jumped on the band wagon in the late 90’s adding some post-consumer material in their shoes. For more information you can read this excellent post from treehugger.com and this case study about Deja Shoe.