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How Grounded People is changing the fashion industry, one vegan shoe at a time

By Simone Preuss


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Vegan shoes by Grounded People. Credits: Grounded People

Grounded People is a Vancouver-based sustainable footwear brand. Dedicated to reversing the harmful environmental impact of the global fashion industry, the PETA-approved brand has each pair of shoes made almost entirely by hand in what it calls the world’s only 100 percent vegan shoe factory. Not only does Grounded People use recycled materials but also ensures fair wages and working conditions. 

It also utilises blockchain technology provided by Retraced to make sure customers can follow where each material has been sourced from and how it is used at every step in the production process. The brand also donates a portion of all proceeds to one of its globally partnered charities through their LACES programme (Learn to Achieve and Create Everlasting Sustainability). FashionUnited spoke with founder and CEO Maximilian Justus (via email) about how the brand started and what it hopes to achieve. 

Credits: Shoes from the All SZN collection. Credits: Grounded People

Could you talk a bit about what motivated you to start Grounded People? 

Growing up in the beautiful city of Vancouver, I have always had a deep appreciation for nature and the environment. My passion for design and the creative process was instilled in me by my mother, who introduced me to sewing at a young age. My interest in fashion and innate sense of entrepreneurship led me to begin my career at just 19 years old, when I started my first e-commerce business. We specialised in custom apparel through direct-to-garment printing, further developing my creative mindset and knowledge of different types of material and fabrics. 

I wanted to utilise the best possible resources that the industry had to offer and began to conduct extensive research of different suppliers and manufacturers. Through this research, I soon discovered the harsh realities of unethical working conditions and the widespread environmental impact of the industry. These factories were producing mass amounts of waste as a result of their manufacturing process and had little to no regard for the safety and well-being of the factory workers. 

These firsthand observations inspired me to become part of a positive change and set a standard for other future entrepreneurs to adopt ethical business practices. My goal was to establish a brand that embodied principles of fair labour practices, sustainability, inclusivity, and community engagement. Creating the Grounded People brand felt like a natural progression from my upbringing and has been a deeply fulfilling journey that has come full circle for me.

Models “Franca" and “Jundiai" from the Sao Paulo collection. Credits: Grounded People

Could you talk about the shoe factory in Brazil - the world’s only 100 percent vegan one? 

The factory has had extensive experience in producing vegan shoes for over ten years and continues to set the standard for ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices in the industry. We are thrilled to have this partnership and value the ability to create jobs for people in regions where employment is more scarce and provide them with social programs that help ensure employee treatment is more than satisfactory. 

Is it your own factory and is there enough demand to remain completely vegan?

We do not own the factory; however, they are our trusted manufacturing partner that produces every pair of Grounded People shoes almost entirely by hand. There is a healthy demand for vegan products, and I expect to see more factories and brands catering to this market in the coming years.

Maximilian Justus, CEO and founder of Grounded People. Credits: Maximilian Justus

How do you ensure safe and fair working conditions and wages?

I frequently visit our manufacturing partner in Brazil and have seen firsthand the working dynamic and factory environment. There is a drastic comparison to how these workers are treated over other production factories in surrounding areas where they are met with unsafe and unfair conditions and wages. 

It’s clear how fortunate each employee feels to be working where they are appreciated and not treated as disposable employees, but rather trained and cared for as a real team of workers. 

What else sets the factory apart?

The factory offers various social programs for employees as well as transportation to and from work - some workers have even stayed at this factory for long periods of time and have turned their jobs at the factory into careers. The man who started the factory eventually passed over the business to his son, inspiring other second-generation workers to begin their careers at this specific manufacturer. Aside from my own experiences, our partner also implements frequent anonymous surveys to ensure each employees’ happiness and satisfaction.

Models “Lee” and “Mika” from the Summer collection. Credits: Grounded People

The shoes are also almost entirely made by hand - how do you manage to still offer competitive prices?

Our shoes are produced in limited, smaller batches, so automation is typically not a standard practice which allows us to remain at a competitive price point. Because of these small batches, our shoes also have an exclusivity element to them. As a company, we are always looking to improve in terms of sourcing materials, and what will be most cost effective for our customers and target audience.

What has been the response to the shoes by customers; is there any particular market that is particularly fond of them?

Our customer base ranges from a wide variety of locations such as California, New York, Vancouver, Toronto and other major cities and areas in between. We have also been receiving a lot of orders from European cities as a result of our recent market expansion. As a brand, we value authenticity and individuality, and wanted to create a shoe that would be suitable for everyone’s lifestyle. Our shoes are extremely versatile and universal, so we have received a positive response from people from all walks of life.

The new All SZN Boots collection. Credits: Grounded People

You currently ship to North America and Europe - any plans to expand the reach?

Expanding into the European market was a major milestone for our brand’s growth and success. Furthering this expansion is our ultimate goal, as our shoes have a universal style to them. We would love for our shoes to ship globally in the near future as Grounded People is a global brand with charity organisations across the entire world. We are constantly striving to increase the number of charities we are partnered with, as well as the visibility of the brand into new markets and demographics.

The journey of each shoe, powered by Retraced, can be followed. Is that something that customers appreciate? 

When I started Grounded People, I wanted transparency and brand authenticity to be the founding values of the brand. I believe brand transparency among consumers should be something that all companies strive for, from the sourcing of materials to the accountability of the labour and practices behind the production process. 

This is especially crucial for the entire fashion industry due to its reputation of environmentally damaging practices and appalling working conditions. We want to combat this stigma and the best way for us to do that is being fully transparent with our customers about where and how our products are made. 

The product journey, powered by Retraced, here for “Mika”. Credits: Grounded People

What motivated you to start your journey with Retraced from the beginning?

Retraced perfectly aligns with this mission, and allows our customers to see tangible, traceable materials and how they are utilised at each step of the production process. For anyone unfamiliar with Retraced, it’s a technology partner of ours that uses blockchain to digitise and trace our supply chains, efficiently manage compliance data and gain full transparency down to the raw materials.

On what basis do you select the charities that the LACES program supports?

We are fortunate to partner with a wide variety of charities and organisations from across the globe that align with a diverse set of missions and values. We reach out to organisations based on the work they do, and the impact they create in the communities they support. 

As a brand, we are extremely passionate about the charities we support and hope to continue to grow our charity partners in the future. Although we are limited sometimes, we connect with as many organisations as possible and then fully execute our partnerships with them, increasing their efforts to truly make a difference. 

Rainbow laces support Rainbow Refugee, an organisation that helps LGBTQ+ refugees resettle in Canada. Credits: Grounded People

How it works is, each organisation picks a special colour of laces to represent its charity. This includes organisations such as Fashion Takes Action, One Tree Planted and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Canada.

Any exciting developments we can expect in the future?

We recently introduced our All Szn Boot Collection, which marked a pivotal moment where we now offer footwear options for year-round seasons, fostering a more stable and robust revenue-generation model. We are always exploring new designs, styles and materials to offer our customer base a wide variety of footwear options. 

One area we’re actively exploring is partnerships with renowned artists for custom shoes. We are excited for the new developments we have in the pipeline, and look forward to revolutionising the brand further and expanding our customer base to new, wider audiences.

Models “Billie” and “Jude” from the All SZN Boots collection. Credits: Grounded People
Grounded People
Sustainable Fashion