Creativity goes hand in hand with innovation. If you add up avant-garde shoe design you'll get Rombaut, an all-natural men's footwear concept from Belgian designer Mats Rombaut, who presented his collection between 18th and 25th January in Paris.

Artisanally crafted in Italy, Rombaut shoes represent a unique crossover between high fashion and ecological awareness. Eliminating toxic and animal-derived substances in the process. The rough yet minimal designs are executed in fig treebark, a biodegradable material collected in Uganda, hand dyed and crafted in Tuscany. The styles are subsequently coated in Amazon rubber for a new, organic and water repellent finish.

Curious as we are we asked Mats a few questions when we were in Paris.

ILB - Why did you start a sustainable footwear line? Are you straight edge or vegan?

Four years ago I became vegetarian, especially from an ecological point of view. I realized how many space livestock takes on this planet or how much land is needed for such a small yield, my choice was made very quickly. If we should use the same area for crops, vegetables and fruits, no one would be  hungry anymore! Animal abuse, pollution and starvation for  a product that we do not even need, are a few more arguments.


ILB - Will you keep on working for other brands where you still have to use leather or will you dedicate yourself to Rombaut?

I wanted to start my own brand since I was 17. Because of my conviction it was very logical to do something without leather, it was not something I had to think about. In fashion almost everyone is doing the same thing, it is an industry like any other and the difference between H&M and Lanvin is getting smaller and smaller on the marketing and supply chain side. I still would like to design for other brands because I would like to share my research and ecological design process. On the one condition that the whole operation is conducted in an ethical manner. Everyone in the chain, from the bark processors in Uganda, the artisans in Tuscany to the retail outlets taking a risk selling a luxury product, should be paid fairly.


ILB - Is Rombaut the new sustainable cool?

I am convinced that sustainability should get a cooler image. I would like to lead by example, and I would be proud if others follow in my footsteps! It is an artisan project that that cannot immediately be applied on a large scale, because it's very time-consuming. First of all I wanted to give a signal that things can be different. Most people want everything fast and cheap words thats don't go together with real craftsmanship and pure passion for the shoe business. People buy shoes in high street chains for 10 euros and are still surprised when shoe factories in Europe go bankrupt. I work with one of the few authentic Italian shoe factories that hasn't been bought by a big luxury group. It's my contribution to a more sustainable economy. Sustainable and authentic can still exist together, if you make the effort.


ILB - Belgium has a great history in the field of shoe design. Just think about the long lost shoe industry in West-Flanders or  the shoe museum SONS  in Kruishoutem.  Do you think shoe design is in our genes? Why did you start with it?

I think SONS fantastic, that futuristic building in the middle of the fields, beautiful! I only discovered  it last year. I did not know it existed in Belgium! It's definitely worth going to. My grandfather and great grandfather were two generations of clog makers, so they also made shoes from trees. But that's not why I started it. I've always been passionate about shoes. When I was 12 I wore the most extravagant shoes in different shapes and colors.
I've been walking around for a long time with the idea to develop a strong design concept and to manage everything myself. I gained experience in famous fashion houses (Damir Doma and Lanvin) and at some point I felt I was ready. I'm also keeping myself busy with music. But more than making shoes, I especially think that entrepreneurship can be found in the Belgian genes.


ILB - Thank you very much for this inspiration talk Mats!

- photography by Virgili Jubero

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