As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Phillip Mayer from CANO about bringing the beauty of handcrafted huarache shoes to Europe.
You started CANO with your old high school friend, Lukas, after studying aboard in Mexico and falling in love with the Huarache leather sandals. What drew you to Mexico, and the Huarache shoes in particular?
Before finding out about huaraches, I was always stuck in a dilemma during summer. Do I want to look nice today and slip on my Italian loafers or do I want to be comfy and wear some sandals? For us men, there was no real alternative to be chic and comfortable at the same time and with CANO we wanted to fill this gap. Our huaraches are very versatile – they can be worn with a suit on your wedding day just as well as with shorts on the beach.
What were you doing before CANO? Did you have any experience in shoe design before?
Lukas and I both studied business. During and after our studies we worked in marketing, consulting and investment banking but never in fashion. When we decided to found CANO, we literally jumped in at the deep end. Of course, a lot of things went wrong because of our lacking experience, but at the same time, a lot went right especially because we were industry outsiders.
Why was it important to you that ethics and transparency be at the heart of CANO?
We believe that the artisans behind each and every product are the true heroes. They are the ones that should get the credit for the beautiful shoes that we get to wear. Therefore it is important to us to introduce our artisans to our customers and make sure that they are paid fairly for the blood, sweat, and tears they’ve put into making our CANOs.
How did you cultivate a network of crafts(wo)men to work within Mexico, and how do you maintain these relationships?
After travelling through Mexico on the quest to find the best craftsmen we came across Sebastian’s workshop. He has a small factory with about 15 artisans. In the factory, they prepare the leather and mount it on the shoe last, before it is distributed to one of the weaving artisans at home. We visit our Artisans multiple times during the year but we are very lucky that we have Sebastian, who maintains the relationships with the artisans while we are away.
How does the traditional design of the Huarache shoe help fight waste creation during production?
The huarache is traditionally handmade out of thin leather straps. This technique makes it possible for us to use almost the entire cowhide for the production. Usually, when shoes are produced, almost 30% of the hide is left over in shapes and forms that cannot be used anymore and are therefore thrown away.
“Ethical fashion” is an extremely broad topic. What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you?
I think everybody has his or her own definition. We always like to differentiate between ethical and sustainable fashion. For us, ethical fashion is about the people in the supply chain whereas sustainable fashion is about the materials that are used. While we try to use the most sustainable materials available, our focus is on the makers behind our shoes. It is important to us that every artisan is treated and paid fairly and works under good conditions.
Do you think that the fashion industry can be a source of empowering source of economic development?
With about 75 million people working in the garment and footwear industry, there is a lot of potential for economic improvement. This means that even a small improvement in wages would have an immense impact on the economy of regions that are focused on garment and footwear production.
What do you look for in other brands that you support?
For us transparency is everything. Being a brand ourselves, we know about all the difficulties one might have when setting up a sustainable supply chain. So nobody is perfect and this is okay, but it is important to stay honest.
What CANO shoes are we most likely to find you in? And what do you pair them with?
Right now, I am in love with my black BENITOs with the natural crepe sole. The thick crepe sole is not only a great style feature, it is also extremely comfortable and makes you think you are walking on clouds. I usually pair them with a dark jeans and a simple white shirt.
Lastly, how would you like to see CANO expand in the future?
We’re actually quite happy with how things are going right now. Our plan is to expand our shoe portfolio and move into other categories such as accessories. Ultimately, we’d like to become a brand for handcrafted goods of any kind that tell the story of how they have been made.