IDYSM: Hey ROKAS. I always like to start out these interviews by setting the scene, so where are you as we do this?
ROKAS: Right now I’m in Dublin, Ireland, I came to visit my sister’s family for a few days as her kids having a school break this week.
IDYSM: So, congrats on Polyforma – how did the idea come about?
ROKAS: When I moved to Berlin a few years ago, the creative vibe of the city really inspired me to do something on my own and new. I’ve always been interested in fashion and in particular I like to dig deeper than the simple aesthetic level of an object and look at it from a more pragmatic perspective. While working on another design project I started to think about an idea to make shoes. At first I didn’t think about the actual product but rather about the process of shoemaking, particularly shoemaking in Italy, as the country is famous for it around the world.
The tradition of shoemaking is very deep in Italy, however it’s on a gradual decline as many artisans cannot keep up with current consumption trends towards fast, disposable fashion. There are many reasons why such unsustainable trends and big corporations behind them are bad, but even more than this, the motivation that made my decision to work with Italian artisans was the notion that one day we might lose this craft of making shoes in authentic way.
Eventually I found a small, family run, second generation shoe workshop and used their skills and story to present my concept on kickstarter.
IDYSM: I have tried to explain what Polyforma is in the intro to this interview, but how would you describe what it is and what it’s setting out to achieve?
ROKAS: You summed it up quite well. We put a lot of care in how and from what materials our products are made, and how later this combination is translated into customer experience.
Through our functional, timeless products we aim to present our customers this experience of true craftsmanship and how this interaction with the product over time becomes truly personal and increases in its intrinsic value.
IDYSM: There is no doubt that the sneaker world is busting at the seams with product at the moment, so where does Polyforma fit in, and what makes it so unique?
ROKAS: I think what makes us unique are the people behind our products.
As I already mentioned we really care about how our products are being made. Design can be easily replicated, also components that are used in a shoe construction (Margom soles lately became a very ‘in’ word describing shoe quality), but I believe that people who contribute in making our products, or more precisely their knowledge and skills are really part of our products. With the help of skilled people we really carefully look at every material we use in our shoes in relation to their quality, footprint on environment and local communities and of course possible effect on the wearer’s experience.
It is easy to say that we use Italian leather, but where that ‘Italian’ leather really comes from, how it was grown and how it was later processed, that is really of interest for us as it affects all points above.
We looked at how to make the shoes more comfortable, how to reduce adhesive, how to make them more flexible and lighter and at the same time keeping the shoes strong and durable. We have just improved the shoe construction so that it can be more easily repaired, enhancing a product lifetime considerably.
IDYSM: Can you talk us through the ‘Polyforma’ experience and what happens from order through to delivery.
ROKAS: Right now we make every pair individually as I believe it makes a product a more authentic and individual.
It also helps in getting the perfect fit buying shoes online as sizing differs from brand to brand. The ordering process is pretty simple. When he adds the product to the cart, we ask the customer to provide his regular shoe size plus heel-to-toe measure of his feet. We provide basic instructions on how you can measure your feet, it’s a very simple task. I think what’s good about the measuring part is that it involves the customer in the actual shoemaking process a bit.
When we receive the order we confirm it with our artisans as sometimes there are some specific requirements and from then it takes up to three weeks to fulfil the order. After their completion the orders are shipped from our workshop in Italy directly to customers around the world. Our customers really value comfort so for their convenience we offer size adjustment absolutely free of charge when we can remake the shoes for them in case they don’t fit as expected.
IDYSM: We see the sneaker world go through notable movements. From lower price point mass purchasing of products from brands like Vans, through to retro running and now Premium is a big buzz word. What do you think appeals about this more select and considered area of footwear at the moment?
ROKAS: It is great that the market has become more fragmented and right now there are many other small brands just like Polyforma out there. What’s good about many of them is that they communicate a different message compared to big, well established brands. It’s also quite inspiring as small brands can be much more creative and innovative.
IDYSM: I think the appeal of a lot of premium product can ride on the back of the large fashion brand it comes from, and the kudos of the wearer being seen to be wearing that label.
While Polyforma product is of a great ‘premium’ quality, does that lack of a brand name make it difficult for you to get noticed in the ‘premium world’?
ROKAS: I won’t deny it, we’re very young, so sure it does. It’s not easy to make people to trust us, but I think it just a matter of time. Many great brands started from nothing and many years of hard work leaded them to prestige they can enjoy right now, so we hope that’s also the way for us. However in many instances becoming well known brand means sacrificing your brand values and cutting corners on the way. Call me idealistic, but the quality of Polyforma products and the value they can create for the people who use them is more important than becoming a ‘large fashion brand’ that can drive sales of products attached to it. There is still a lot of room for us to grow, but the nature of our products leads to assume that we won’t be making 10 000 pairs of shoes per month in the future.
IDYSM: Something that will help you get noticed is your combo of timeless silhouettes, Italian craftsmanship, a true bespoke fit, and even packaging with after care products. In offering all of this, do you think Polyforma does in many ways offer a true Premium experience, maybe something large fashion brand names cannot offer?
ROKAS: I cannot talk for other brands, but yes, you’re right, we really focus on customer experience, from opening the box to using the product.
There is a hype right now to collect sneakers. I can understand it from an investment perspective as the market is huge, but for me it’s like buying a rare, sports car and never drive it. So for me this premium experience is the most evident when you wear the shoes and make them personal.
It’s amazing how natural materials can age, adapt to the unique shape of your body and just get better over time just by wearing them (good example is dry denim). This is the reason we add aftercare products with every pair of shoes, as it is important to care about them so they can last a very long time. There is a hype right now to collect sneakers.
IDYSM: Why did you decide to create the brand through a crowd funding strategy?
ROKAS: Great way to test the market and see if consumers are interested in your idea. Also it allows direct dialogue with those people who are interested in it. Besides that in our case it’s a good combination of old and traditional with new and innovative.
IDYSM: Germany has pioneered so much within sneaker culture, what do you hope that Polyforma can add to the country’s illustrious history?
ROKAS: I’m grateful for being in Berlin and doing my business here, but I wouldn’t define Polyforma as a German brand. I myself am from Lithuania, the team I work with is very international and of course shoes are made in Italy. However I would love to think that I can add a little contribution to modern, timeless and functional designs that Germany is famous for.
IDYSM: What does the future hold for you and Polyforma?
ROKAS: We’re working on bringing our products to traditional retail as I think it’s an important part of the customer experience to be able to touch and try the shoes before buying them. Also we’re working on establishing a repair process, so that all shoes could be repaired easily and quickly as that further can enhance our customer experience and reinforce cycle of sustainable consumption.
IDYSM: It’s tradition that all ‘In Their Shoes’ interviews always end with this signature question so…, what’s on your feet right now?
ROKAS: My everyday shoes currently are our 82 in undyed leather.
For more info head to Polyforma.