THE CHANGEMAKER

Meet Lockie & Charly Cunningham, Founders of SANS MATIN

Tell us a bit about your brand and what you do to drive sustainability?

As we developed the brand and the products, our ethos became clear. Whilst style, versatility and unparalleled comfort were key, we wanted to set ourselves apart by thinking about the industry and world we now live in. We therefore set out our brand to be built on ethical and charitable practices, whilst continuing to strive to meet our sustainable goals.

Sustainability has always been at the forefront of our minds at SANS MATIN. We still have a long way to go in achieving all of our sustainability goals, but we are delighted to have made significant steps to date. We locally source all our materials to minimise our carbon footprint and waste. We have a sustainable closed-loop of sourcing and producing our 60% natural rubber soles. All our packaging and shoe bags are made from recycled cardboard, PET (recycled plastic bottles) and recycled cottons. All our shoes are ethically handmade, which means ever-expanding employment of incredible individuals in our atelier in Medellin, Colombia. We have created SMCycle which is a process in which you can recycle your old SM shoes with us to complete their life cycle. We donate 2% of all our sales to the amazing charity Children Change Colombia. We are also researching and looking to find an organisation with whom we can partner to help replant the Amazon rainforest in Colombia with indigenous species. There’s still plenty to achieve!

How did your journey in the fashion industry begin?

Whilst neither of us has studied fashion, it has always been a fascination of ours. In fact, our parents reminded us recently of our heated debates aged six over which one of us had the freshest kicks! The two of us have always wanted to start a business together but for years what that business would be eluded us. However, after an incident whilst travelling South America together in 2015 involving a pair of trainers and a tumble-dryer, a new pair were needed and an idea emerged. We were looking for a stylish, comfortable, affordable and versatile trainer from a brand whose ethos we believed in. It didn’t take long to realise that what we were looking for didn’t exist. 

In more recent times, we have both seen an enormous cultural shift taking place in modern businesses and start-ups, which challenges traditional workplace norms; conventional working hours and, more significantly for us, stiff dress codes. Trainers, you could argue, signify this shift in culture and have now become the everyday footwear staple in nearly all environments. The idea and the business became clear, and with that, SANS MATIN was born.

What’s your biggest business accomplishment so far?

A particular high point was GQ featuring The Eduardo as the best trainer in the world four months after we launched SANS MATIN. It just felt fantastic to be recognised for what we were doing and also gave SANS MATIN the validation that it needed at the time. Since then, we have received more high-profile press coverage which always makes the hard work worthwhile. However, without a doubt, our biggest accomplishment so far has been the fact that we were able to launch and develop a brand through a global pandemic. As with most businesses around the world, the scale of the challenge presented was enormous, yet, we are delighted to have been able to grow the brand, keep personnel employed, donate to particular COVID relief funds, and come out the other side in a far stronger position than when we went in.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in your work?

That’s a tough question as we learn something new every day. From a business standpoint, we have learnt the importance of being as agile and adaptable as possible at a moment’s notice. We’ve had to ensure synchronicity across the business through analytical, forward-thinking processes and problem-solving. The greatest test to the business has certainly been the curveball that COVID has thrown which has impacted all businesses across the world. However, a key thing we have learnt is that you will almost never get it right on the first attempt, whether product development, your website or your branding, it takes time and evolution and everyone is learning constantly as they go. But that’s the art, don’t give up, as the more time you spend working, adapting, streamlining and problem-solving, the clearer the overall picture becomes and inherently the more successful your business will become.

In your personal life, what do you do to be more eco-responsible?

Something that we have both been doing for a couple of years now is eating vegan two days a week. It’s a small change to make but we both feel it’s bettered our diets and wellbeing, but more so, we are fully aware of the environmental impacts of meat production and consumption. With water usage, energy use, recycling, plastic consumption and resultant negative environmental impacts, we both talk often about what more we can do personally to minimise our personal impacts.

What do you do to disconnect?

We both enjoy unwinding with friends, however, given the current circumstances and restrictions, we have had to find other means of disconnecting. We both do workouts multiple times a week, meditate before sleep, run or walk to get fresh air every day and have both started to refine our culinary talents (beans on toast was starting to get a bit repetitive)!

Your favourite place to be in nature?

We both have a bit of a soft spot for Battersea Park in London, where we spent a lot of time as kids, whether being over competitive with a football or having a picnic with our families. However, a place that we both undoubtedly list as our favourite is the Amazon rainforest. We spent time staying in the outskirts of the rainforest in Ecuador going on treks and exploring a small corner of this incredible part of the world. Its natural beauty and how truly unique of a natural habitat it is have become something we have never forgotten. It was from this experience that we decided to find an organisation with whom we can partner to help replant the Amazon rainforest with indigenous species.

What are your go-to sustainable brands? 

The brand Allbirds is very inspiring in its material development and environmental goals. There are many great businesses/brands out there doing positive things, but we are determined to forge our own path where we can create a truly sustainable, charitable and ethical brand without compromising on style. We believe we have achieved this in our brand ethos, but as said, there’s a long way to go and a lot more we want to achieve.

If you could share any advice to someone looking to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle? 

As with anything in life, routine is a great way to create sustainable processes. That may be achieved through eating less meat by having vegan days or using refills for things like soaps and washing liquids. Outside of routine, it’s also about having awareness in your daily mindset; for example, thinking about plastic consumption via the everyday items or clothing you buy. This extends to water and energy consumption, which in turn extends beyond what you do at home to what you consume every day. Normalising these thought processes and understanding your own carbon footprint is, what we believe, to be the best way to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.

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