This husband-wife duo have been bringing a Spanish handmade shoe to the US since 2011. Entirely made by artisans, using primarily natural materials, Pons is a farmer’s shoe turned fashionable. The couple is passionate about preserving the heritage of Menorca. But in an era of sustainability, they’re upfront and honest about some of the challenges facing brands like themselves in footwear.
Pons has been made since 1945 on the Spanish island of Menorca. The natural vecchio leather, the soles made from recycled tires — all the main components of the shoe come from Spain. Despite their small carbon footprint in sourcing these ingredients, Noelia Pahissa and Jose Fuentes, founders of the California-based company, say there are limitations: “We think the main limitation is the materials used in the production.”
The soles, for instance, are glued to the footbed. While vegetarian glue would be more eco-friendly, he says, “[it’s] less strong than regular glues.”
That’s why the brand has to be careful about how it conveys this message to customers: “We promote Pons as being sustainable— not necessarily natural, as we realize it’s not possible for all Pons styles to be 100% natural.”
Where they can cut down on their carbon foot, they are by localizing the manufacturing: 99 percent of the materials are sourced in Spain, and a large part of that is from the island of Menorca itself, Pahissa explains. The rest of the materials, for instance, the vegan leather comes from nearby Italy and Germany. Note that most vegan leathers are made from synthetic materials or polymers at this point. The traditional Pons are made from leather, from a workshop based in Menorca itself— just blocks away from the Pons workshop. In fact, they have been working together for decades.
The resources are there because these shoes have been made for over 70 years in this location. The first iteration of the sandal was actually made over a century ago for farmers in the area. Now they’re a fashion statement with copycats in the market for a cheapter price and cheaper materials, the couple says.
Their Pons avarcas carry the “Avarca de Menorca Logo,” which indicates that’s a handmade product from the region by the Associacío de fabricants del Calçat de Menorca. The Pons workshop in Ciutadella is still owned and operated by the third generation of the Pons family and employs about a dozen local craftspeople, some who have spent their entire adult lives honing the craft.
When Pahissa and Fuentes decided to bring the design to the US, they realized there was no awareness of the Pons in America. Using their savings to start the US arm of the company, and their warehouse as their office, the duo spent countless days driving up and down the California coast, personally taking the shoe to boutiques and independent retailers.
“We spent the first three years working from home, our garage was well organized and fully packed with shoes until we got to a point that we maxed out of it and moved to our current warehouse,” Fuentes says.
Both of them came from the corporate world but had always dreamt of starting their own own business. They had grown up wearing Pons and wanted to share that carefree, elegant style with American customers. So many of their friends had commented on their shoes that they figured there was a market for them in the US.
But a shoe that was initially made with leather and rubber tires has had to keep up with the times; EVA soles are now used for some of their designs. Only about 10 percent of the soles are made with rubber tires. Fuentes and Pahissa are particularly interested in using vegetarian glues and dyes. Yet to do so, these products, they say, have to be just as good as the conventional ones.
What does this mean for other handmade products that have scaled or are trying to scale? Is it possible to do so using eco-friendly materials and still be competitive on price in the market?
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