GRANDT MASON: South Africa’s First Vegan-Footwear Brand

Grandt Mason, a Cape Town based industrial designer, faced a predicament. Having embarked on a vegan lifestyle, he required to make some life changes, which included wearing leather-free footwear. Since he couldn’t find any pairs readily available in South Africa, he decided to make his own. Although his first pair was an uncomfortable denim boots, it was sustainably rafted and contained absolutely no animal products. Due to this unique component, he began to receive enquiries about his offbeat footwear. This lead to the launch of his eponymous footwear business in 2002, making him a pioneer vegan footwear brand in the country. Here’s what you need to know about Grandt Mason Originals:

[Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

It took a team

It’s one thing to have a dream, it’s another to execute it to the quality level that can compete in the international fashion arena. Sure, it was 2002 and sustainability was novelty. However, that wouldn’t keep the brand afloat for much longer. Enter the late Woodstock shoemaker, Achmat Taliep. According to Footwear and Leather Goods Magazine, Volume 80, they teamed up, invested in machinery and moved into a pair of garages. Mason’s sister, Kate, came on board to help run things; giving Mason the freedom to concentrate on design experimentation.

The Lace [Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

As he scouted for shoe factories in Cape Town to take his footwear quantities to commercial levels, he met experienced shoe makers, Gerald Batt and the late Jacques du Plooy. These individuals acted as the catalysts to improve Mason’s design and career strategy whilst providing necessary links in the footwear industry; such as Hong Kong Shoe maker, May Ling, at Yardley Leather. He then moved his business from low-rent factories to an atelier in the arty Woodstock Exchange in Albert Road, Cape Town.

The Loaf [Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

Then came the skilled artisans. Grandt Mason Originals wanted their vegan shoes to incorporate the South African flare, with elements of traditional shoe patterns. Working with some expensive materials, he had to turn to expert artisans in the trade to make sure nothing went to waste. Mason has trained them in what he calls the ‘three-dimensional design’.  Unlike conventional methods that use heat to bend synthetics around the last, he starts on the last by patterning the shoe on masking tape first. Next he maps the shapes so that they can meet and fits into each other. The team is now at a place where they know the style by heart, and can make the designs without Mason’s supervision. This is inclusive of the custom options available. Customers can have their shoes made-to-order, where they can specify anything from size customization to the fabrics stitch colour used.

The Yacht XIII [Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

Eco-friendly & Sustainability elements

The brand works to create a quality, durable product that follows sustainable and fair trade principles. For starters, there’s a focus on ergonomics, movement principles and correct footfall. Before you complete your online transaction, you’re also encouraged to define the arch of your foot, choosing between the options of flat, normal and high, for the perfect fit.

The Ballet [Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

These handmade designs utilise locally sourced and recycled materials, such as leftover arterial from South Africa’s leading upholstery distributors. But that’s not all. They’ve managed to incorporate bio-degradable alternative material into the shoes where possible. In their May 2017 Catalogue, they breakdown their shoes as follows:

  • Upper – Made from natural fibres for breathability.
  • Insole – Made from both 100% biodegradable pure cork and a padded silicone layer.
  • Midsole – Made from woven plant fibre board.
  • Wedge – Made from cork-rubber for its shock absorption qualities.
  • Sole – Made from pure rubber and non-slip gristle sole.

Cork is a popular material here as it never gets wet, hence it remains dry no matter the weather conditions or temperatures. These natural components not only allow the foot to breathe but they also contain anti-bacterial properties which is ideal in footwear. Additionally, their soles are retreadable, which means the wearer can prolong the lifespan of their shoes. The insoles detach as well, so they can be replaced once they’ve reached the end of their lifecycle.

[Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

Mason considers himself as a problem solver. With comfort and ergonomics in mind, he wanted to ensure that his shoes had perfect fit. Hence the laces on the heels of his shoes. In addition, the shoes open in the front with a press-stud which are made from brass to prevent rusting. Apart from his obsession with his shoes adjusting to the individual’s foot, he’s focused on functionality. Thus, not only do they lack stiffeners, allowing customers to pack their shoes flat for travelling, they can be machine washed as well. Because it’s free of animal products, heat-set silicones and plastics, these shoes are 90% bio-degradable. Each product carries a one year global guarantee on its construction and Mason will incur the cost of repair, or shipping a new pair, in the event of a factory fault. There are five styles available under the Grandt Mason Originals line, with three being unisex and two being distinctively feminine. These include the Lace, Lace-Hi, Loaf, Ballet and the Yacht.

The Lace Hi [Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

Revised Marketing Strategy

After 13 years of running a vegan label, he was forced to accept the realisation that the local market wants leather products. After all, most Africans associates leather with quality. To sustain Grandt Mason Original’s growth, he incorporated leather that was still sustainable in a range called the Bearthfoot. He locally sources the leather and has it tanned at veg tanneries that do not use chemically hazardous products.  These shoes still maintain the bio-degradable edge. Once the wearer is done with them, they can be thrown in a compost heap to enrich the soil.

Custom Collection [Image: Courtesy of Grandt Mason]

Going green, being eco-friendly or leading a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle is quite common place in today’s world. But in the early 2000, it was a fairly new concept. Mason identified a need and made it his USP. He then kept it South African by not only using local materials, but incorporating the skills of local craftsmen to make a sustainable handmade product.  Mason’s 15 years in the footwear industry is a testament that sustainable production and impeccable quality is achievable. And with the state of the environment, fashion has a role to play in connecting their customers to the clothes and apparel they purchase.

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