tobe + simpleton colab

The things that still amazes me about doing this blog, is that I get to meet so people that continue to try and do thing differently, even when the pervading culture says it must be done THIS way to succeed. Surely in this financially constrained time we should be looking to see how well our current models of design, manufacture and distribution of designer shoes and clothing actually work, and asking if there is anything we can change. I love companies like KOWTOW who have chosen to defy convention, and design, make and sell clothing, both ethically and fair-trade, in a market that would seem to not have room for them. Ethically made clothing is traditionally expensive and yet they have found a model that works for them, and thus works for us. Beautiful organic cotton clothing made in an ethical way in a village in India – giving both us and the makers something valuable and positive – a livelihood (for them) and well constructed and designed clothing with a conscience (for us).

Footwear label ToBe have a reputation for simplicity with their footwear – with the materials (Whanganui leather), comfort and the form speaking for themselves rather that overt gimmickry or advertising used. They are stocked at Good as Gold, Superette and Huffer to name a few of the stores. Recently they have collaborated with three young design students to develop a small range within-a-range using the ToBe ‘template’ but with their own twist. They have used Merino Wool to keep the cost down and very different manufacturing model.  Instead of trying to anticipate sales, and the risk of buying ahead, they have chosen to have clients pre-order.  Working out of a coffee shop, Raglan Roast in Wellington, they have chosen to use that as their base rather than the traditional shoe store.

The space is filled with couches and the fabulous smell of coffee (you can get an excellent flat white while you are perusing the shoes) and fabulous footwear. If you are lucky you might also get to meet one or more of the three enthusiastic fill-time students who are ‘Simpleton’.  John Chen, Nick Loubser and Geoff Wright are all in their final year at Massey studying Industrial Design.  They share a passion for footwear, which luckily, is also one of the pathways that Industrial Design offers.  John Chen interned at ToBe last summer, and developed at good working relationship with Mike Wilson (ToBe). He decided to give Simpleton a straightforward brief to shake up ToBe’s casual range. So with total creative freedom, ‘Simpler Times’ was conceived.

For $120 you get a new pair of ToBe/Simpleton sneakers, a bag of coffee from Raglan Roast and an invite to their launch party in September/October when the shoes land. The orders have to be in by the end of July then the factory in Indonesia takes over. The factory usually manufacturers boots for the Indonsian Army which one imagines speaks to their durability!

Having their shoes at Raglan Roast is all part of their vision for putting their product “in a space where the design/materiality/craftsmanship is appreciated and not just another branded shoe on the rack. We have found that the people coming in really do appreciate the environment we have created. Being able to come grab a coffee, sit down, chill out, talk to us and hear the story. I definitely feel this has helped in our goal of connecting the consumer to the design more. Wanting to really avoid the conventional retail pathway of the often fake greeting or pressured experience that users get from such places. With the theme of the range being ‘Simpler Times’ + RR roasting their own coffee beans, the whole vibe of the space is about local people doing it big, supporting the little man, achieving quality and craft through the attention to what the people are really saying/wanting; conversation to real people has been imperative in our design process.”

You can’t help but admire them and their enthusiasm.  Go and have a look at the shoes, and meet them – and I dare you not to catch a bit of their vision.

Simpler Times range by Simpleton in collaboration with ToBe, at Raglan Roast 40 Abel Smith Street, Te Aro, Wellington.

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