Warm, dry and wool-free – the search for the perfect vegan lining

An afternoon in Cologne. A colourful facade hides the place where the magic happens – here, (shoe) dreams are designed and some rejected; ideas are juggled and lace colours are discussed with passion. In the Wildling workshop, between walls full of sketches and fabric panels, Kristin, Sabine, Katina and Pia work with an attentive eye for detail. Here, stitching colours are considered as important as fabric texture, so that in the end a shoe is born that makes not only them happy, but also as many customers as possible. 

And while the current autumn/winter models are still being worn in and finished prototypes for the coming spring collection jostle for space in the workshop, plans for the autumn/winter 2020 collection have already been running in parallel for some time.

Complementing our successful and long-standing cooperation with Nordwolle, next autumn and winter Wildling wants again to offer one or two lined models free of animal materials.

In the first few years the vegan models were lined with polyester plush. That was warm but synthetic, and made of materials that were neither recycled nor biodegradable. The best solution at the time, it was still slightly problematic, as using such a material didn't meet the standards that Wildling sets itself.

Kristin and her colleagues are glad that this year, with hemp-flax fleece, they've finally found an alternative to wool that is both vegan and plastic-free. But they’re still constantly on the lookout for ways to improve. That seems to be a Wildling thing :-)

Criteria for a lining material

But what requirements does a lining material for winter shoes actually need to fulfil?

Very important: of course it needs to provide warmth. But it shouldn't be so thick that it affects the size of the shoe or the fit. It should absorb as little moisture as possible, or be able to get rid of it again quickly. To avoid smelly feet it shouldn’t react to moisture or bacteria and should be odour-inhibiting. And ideally of natural origin. If it does have to be a synthetic material, then it needs to be biodegradable or at least be made of recycled materials.

Wool meets all these criteria, especially the sustainable wool from Nordwolle. But is there also a vegan material that can do all that?

Since we’d been using polyester plush, it was natural to turn to a similar yet plastic-free material: cotton plush. Also available in organic quality from sustainable sources. But unfortunately it has a few disadvantages. It gets flattened very quickly, so there's no more room between the fibres for warm air, and the plush loses its warming characteristics. It also loves moisture. Once saturated with water, it stays wet. And since nobody wants to have cold, wet feet in the winter, cotton plush is not a suitable option.

The search takes our product team to the jungles of Asia and South America, to a material also known as plant-based down. Kapok. The fruit or seed pods of the tropical trees that grow up to 50 m high contain seed wool - fluffy fibres. The fibres are hollow, extremely light, and coated with a wax layer on the outside – so instead of soaking up water they remain floating on the surface. For hundreds of years, therefore, kapok has been used as a filling material, for example in life belts or life jackets, but also as an insulating material. Kapok trees are used in reforestation and grow in the wild. Sounds like we might have found the perfect lining material! Vegan, warm, water-resistant, ecological and sustainable, light and fluffy! We even found a possible supplier from the Netherlands at the Performance Days fair in Munich. But in all the excitement about this great material, one question remains open: how are the working conditions of the people who harvest the kapok fruit?

Water-resistant and warm – but what about the working conditions?

The fruit isn't picked by machine, but by hand, and since the trees grow up to 50 metres high we want to guarantee that the safety of the pickers is assured. Because above all, running an ecological and sustainable business includes considering the people involved in production, and guaranteeing fair and safe working conditions.

While we're waiting for answers in this area, the search continues for a sustainable and functional vegan lining material. At the Performance Days fair in Munich there was also a company that for years has been manufacturing a synthetic alternative to down, with proven thermo-regulating characteristics and often used as an insulating layer. Although it's synthetic, it consists of 100% recycled materials and is 94% biodegradable. It dries quickly and is odour-free.

This material also impresses thanks to the extensive experience and many rounds of tests that it's already been through with this manufacturer. But even though it’s biodegradable, it's still synthetic.

So which will be the new lining material for the wool-free models next autumn and winter?Or will we stick with hemp-flax fleece? The decision depends on many factors and is more complex than it seems at first glance. As yet, none of the materials described here have been tested for their suitability for Wildling processing, and the search continues. So we remain in suspense! What we can be certain of is this: the chosen material will keep you warm, and production and harvest will meet the fair and sustainable standards that Wildling has set – both for people and for nature.

Run wild! Anna, Ran & Team Wildling


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