About ten years ago, Malo Dyb took a pair of outdoor boots, stripped them down to only leave the necessary functions you need to wear them in everyday Nordic life, and founded Kastel Shoes.
— We want to be the shoe industry’s Rick Rubin, he tells. For those unaware, Rick Rubin is an iconic music producer who considers himself a music reducer and not a producer. He strips music down to perfection and has worked with a wide range of musicians from Johnny Cash to Jay Z. Over the years, we’ve become more and more aware of how much the footwear industry has overcomplicated itself because it could, both financially and environmentally. We want to spearhead a movement to counter this overengineering of footwear. A few years ago, we opened Norway’s first self-service store in Oslo and that’s also an attempt to simplify the shopping experience for the benefit of the customer. The footwear industry is ripe for disruption and the pandemic has made that even more clear to us and I believe that we are a shoe brand that wants to do more with less.
For Kastel’s new Stavern silhouette, Malo Dyb tells, the brand made a one-piece 3D knitted upper from recycled polyester. The remaining components — 11 in total, instead of 30 to 50 in a regular shoe — are some necessary components for reinforcements and sole unit.
— It’s a concept that has developed over time. I think the first time the idea sparked was when we wanted to make a really breathable shoe. We spent months finding the most breathable material only to find out the factory would glue the lining anyway removing all breathability — which turned out to be a very common issue. So we started seeing how we could strip away the layers and then one thing led to another. The factory was very helpful, but any time we had difficulties their, obvious, automatic response was to add materials to solve the problem. That’s fair — it is the way the footwear industry has always worked around complicated constructions. So, we had to keep trying to challenge this habit and collectively find a way to solve issues without adding another component. Moving forward we are looking to reduce as much as we can on all our shoes, although, on some styles, more than others. For the Stavern model, we are still improving and are looking to remove more components as we go along. We want to learn more about how we can 3D-knit in different structures to create more stability and remove the need for reinforcements.
Did the initiative come with any other challenges? And are the shoes with 11 components as good as one with 20-40 more?
— It required patience and a lot of trial and error. If the heel of a shoe is uncomfortable, the common response is to add more foam. So to make a heel comfortable by playing more with the height of the material and smarter layering was a big challenge, for sure. In the end, in most cases, we think a shoe with 11 components should become better than one with many more. By using less components, the shoe can become more breathable and the quality better, as each component adds a weakness. Of course, in terms of comfort, there is always a limit to how much you can reduce, so it’s a balancing act.
How far can you take this? Will you be able to use, say, one-three components in a shoe?
— 1 component is already done — just look at Crocs. The challenge is more about how ready the market is to embrace mono-material shoes, but we think it’s only a matter of time. We think with a combination of 3D design and mono-material construction, the shoe trends are going to make a complete shift pretty soon. Then we just need to find out how we can either make these shoes completely biodegradable or recyclable.
Kastel is currently exploring a bunch of innovative materials, to see if they can be put into production.
— We are doing a lot of testing on beeswax combined with wool and hemp and also, perhaps, even nettle fabric soon. We will launch our next production with Norwegian wool and first production with 100 % hemp this year. We are still working on the beeswax and hopefully will be able to release something along with these hemp shoes. The reason is we want to find a solution better than a membrane. Membranes work really well until they puncture and the shoes take in water. So, we want to create an alternative system to a membrane where you can continually maintain your shoes with natural minerals, for instance using beeswax, and not have to throw them away when they leak. I mean, if the Vikings managed to create wind and waterproof textiles for sails, clothing, and footwear using natural oils and minerals, combined with leather and textiles — why shouldn’t we? Malo Dyb asks, adding,
— We think it’s time to look back to look forward. The footwear industry has been a little too obsessed with creating complex technologies it can patent and then monetize on. We think it’s time to simplify and share. We hope as many brands as possible copy our ideas, if they prove better for the planet.
Also, last August, we highlighted your initiative with a network to create a greener shoe industry in Norway. Half a year later, how’s it going?
— Great! We have started a project of mapping out and evaluating the entire value chain of each brand with the help of 2025 Design from Norway and Peak 63 from Sweden. We are a very diverse group of brands with members being Alfa, Viking, Swims, Gaitline, Tag Your Shoes, and Kastel. In the end, it will be very interesting to see where we can improve individually and where we can collaborate as a group.
What else do you have coming?
— We are working on a growth strategy and are looking to get new investors involved to continue building a more disruptively sustainable business model. We want to challenge every part of our value chain and see what parts are outdated and then try to improve them. Hopefully, in the near future, we can replace samples with 3D designs and move to a pre-order system to avoid unnecessary overproduction of shoes that people don’t want or need.