These grape leather sneakers are the pinnacle of sustainable apparel, but the brand carries some baggage with it. PANGAIA’s Grape Leather Sneakers are a very (expensive) sustainable product. For $245 you can purchase these shoes that are made of extremely innovative materials. PANGAIA has shown its efforts to move towards a circular economy with these shoes being that they are made of repurposed waste and zero virgin materials. The brand has many initiatives in place to support environmental sustainability and works with European warehouses with reputable labor laws and eco certifications. The company has built its brand identity on the celebration of inclusivity and diversity, however one of the founders has done quite the opposite for herself. Several scandals surrounding racism, homophobia, and transphobia have been connected to the PANGAIA name thanks to the actions of Miroslava Duma. Because of this, I cannot call PANGAIA a fully transparent brand, solely based off “who makes it.” On the whole, their innovative sustainable apparel impresses me and for that I do have to ultimately commend the brand and recommend their products.
Grape leather - The bulk of PANGAIA’s sneakers are made of a sustainable material called grape leather which is produced by an Italian company called Vegea. The material is made from repurposed waste from Italy’s winemaking industry (which typically produces 6.5 billion liters of waste a year) (1). The process uses the solid remains of grapes, combined with vegetable and and water-based polyurethane (WBPU)*. This creates a biobased, sustainable material that is then coated onto organic cotton (2). The result is a leather alternative made from at least 70% renewable and recycled materials. PANGAIA is very transparent with their concerns about the material. They truthfully acknowledge that the grape leather material is not yet biodegradable and not easily recyclable. For this reason they use the material for shoes — a product that is low-wash and long-lasting. This shows their mindfulness and proper planning in terms of sustainability and function.
This shoe is said to be made out of zero virgin resources. The rubber sole is made from recycled industrial waste (i.e. samples, prototypes, rejected products). The shoes are sustainably made to last with high quality stitching and bio-based water glue. The shoelaces are made from cotton with ends made of 100% recycled plastic.
* WBPU is considered the most environmentally-responsible form of polyurethane because its medium is water rather than toxic chemicals.
PANGAIA as a brand is working very diligently to reduce their environmental impact. The PANGAIA Grape Leather Sneakers specifically is one example of how they are producing apparel in a very circular fashion. The sneakers show their efforts to reuse products after their first use (recycled rubber sole) and to increase their use of recycled raw materials to close the loop on their production streams (grape leather) (3). All PANGAIA items are made with innovative and sustainable materials.
PANGAIA sells their products at very high price points. For example, the Grape Leather sneakers have a price of $245. They recognize that these prices make their products unattainable for many people, however their products are an investment in the future of materials science and their prices reflect highest quality, ethical standards, and innovations (4). PANGAIA is a pioneer by utilizing new sustainable technologies and practices. While setting the bar high, they are also showing others how to follow which they hope will eventually build scale and drive down the costs across the sustainable apparel industry.
Most of PANGAIA products are made in Europe, with warehouses in the UK for easy logistics and factories in Portugal because of the quality of their labor laws and widespread eco certifications. They value their partnerships with factories and people who likeminded in their willingness to experiment with sustainability. Their Grape Leather Sneakers are handmade by a local family factory in Italy (1). PANGAIA’s website notes that produced in Italy responsibly using minimal water and vegetable tanning alternatives.
PANGAIA’s website explains that it is run by a “Collective”. This is described as a new model of leadership that favors a team structure over a group of individuals working alone. PANGAIA has five founders who come from a variety of industries: Nathalie Longuet, Amanda J. Parkes, Rachna Bhasin, Miroslava Duma, and Jasmine Mullers (5). These women make up part of the PANGAIA collective. One in particular, Miroslava Duma however has been making headlines over the last 10 years for very controversial behavior. She has been accused of making racist, homophobic, and transphobic comments publicly since 2012 (6) and for publishing racist images on her Beauty/Lifestyle website, Buro 24/7 (7). It seems that PANGAIA’s marketing has strategically omitted Duma’s name, and all other founders names, from their website and have instead referred to themselves as a collective that “everyone is welcome into” (8). It is quite ironic that all this controversy has been tied to a brand like PANGAIA, whose name represents PAN for all-inclusive, uniting, and GAIA for Mother Earth. PANGAIA’s website has a page dedicated to “elevating human potential” and celebrating intersectional diversity (9). As I said the brand’s website is very vague about the individuals who are apart of PANGAIA’s collective, but it is clear from her Instagram that Duma still has connection to the brand. I have seen on social media that this is a point of contention for many who once supported the brand. It would be beneficial for the brand to make a statement on this matter.