Whole Living Magazine: One Small Step
The surf enthusiasts behind the People’s Movement have figured out that creating cool footwear can help clean up the oceans Kevin Flanagan doesn’t like to call his shoes “environmentally friendly.” Doing so would mean there was no room for improvement.
Instead, he prefers “environmentally friendlier,” and he continues to look for ways to lighten the footwear’s impact on the planet.
Flanny, as he’s known, is CEO of the People’s Movement, a company he cofounded in 2011 with his brother-in-law Mark Wystrach and a childhood friend, Chris Swortwood. It all started when another friend returned from a trip to China and went on about the canvas sneakers he’d seen on migrant workers there. Unable to find a similar style in America, he enlisted Wystrach, an actor and musician, to create a design using naturally dyed organic cotton; they called it the People’s Shoe.
Once Flanagan (a former marketing executive at a surf-apparel company) and Swortwood (previously president of a venture capital firm) joined the ranks, business took off. Today the line includes sneakers in about 20 styles—some of which have landed on the feet of the famous (Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Martin) and graced the pages of Vogue—as well as wallets, T-shirts, and a ballet slipper sold at Nordstrom.
In their LEED-certified Southern California offices, just steps from the ocean, there are no cubicles to be found. A rainbow of shoes lines one wall, and Movement’s small team perches on recycled-cardboard chairs, tapping away on laptops.
The People’s Movement strives to maintain its “proletariat shoe” ethos, says Wystrach, creating styles that appeal to moneyed hipsters and working-class folks alike (a pair starts at $85)—but the company is expanding its message. “I want people to know that ‘Movement’ stands for moving away from old, environmentally harmful ways of thinking and manufacturing,” he adds.
The Movement guys believe that the biggest eco-sin in modern manufacturing is plastic, so their “Clean Act” sneakers come packaged in discarded bags that washed up on Bali beaches, some of them printed with faraway addresses. “That just drives home the point that single-use plastics never go away,” Flanagan says.
All of the shoes bear the same wraparound-arrow design (the one on the Clean Act model is made from upcycled plastic), and one dollar from each sale goes to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a California-based nonprofit.
Movement currently is working on a style that incorporates trash collected from nearby harbors, and another design that is completely biodegradable. “The dream,” says Flanagan, “is to leave the planet cleaner for our kids than our parents left it for us.”
By Claire trageser