I have to be honest and say that when ECCO shoes approached me and asked me to join their media press trip to Copenhagen, I didn’t know very much about ECCO shoes.
I think I had walked passed one of their shops a few times. I’d never actually been in an ECCO store. I felt that they sold “practical” shoes, as opposed to “fashion” shoes, to which I am clearly addicted.
So, I was a little embarressed to discover that:
ECCO is the 3rd largest producer of casual footwear in the world.
ECCO shoes are sold in over 90 countries.
ECCO is the only major shoe manufacturer that has chosen to own its own tanneries and factories, allowing them control of every detail of supply and manufacture, from cow to consumer.
ECCO has a set of ethical principles that are applied in all company operations throughout the world. It includes respect for human rights, freedom of religion and supports the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
And what interested me was talking to the ECCO people and finding out what ECCO think about their shoes, and why they feel they have a unique range. Apart from being seduced with free international travel to a fashion week, my interest was piqued by the idea of seeing the whole design process, and what inspired that design.
I was excited about getting an education!
So off I went on a jet plane, and 30 hours of travelling later, I arrived in the coldest place I have ever been to.
The ECCO Centre is nestled 4 hours drive away from Copenhagen, in a small little rural town called Tonder. There were snowy fields, winter trees, cute little cottages and wild dear. I was in fairytale heaven.
The ECCO Centre is a huge and lovely place – with multiple open and spacious buildings, every wall covered in original art. There are dorms for visitors to stay. A cafeteria that looks more like a restaurant. An indoor golf driving range, beautiful gardens and sculptures.
Talking to a lot of people, the biggest thing I learned about Danish culture is that – the people place a high importance on work-life balance and having a high quality of life.
Did you know that in Denmark, most workers have 6 WEEKS ANNUAL LEAVE? Their work hours are 8am to 5pm every day, and half days on Friday. Mothers have 12 months maternity leave, fathers have 6 months leave. They do have high taxes, but that means a high level of social welfare – free education and health care.
No wonder why they are often called “the happiest people in the world”!
Anyway, on to the shoes.
In a guided tour of the ECCO Centre, we saw inside the ECCO branding department, and saw some shoes that won’t even be released for several seasons ! I noticed that ECCO have brought in lots of new stylish looks for their collections.
These are some current SS11 Women’s Golf shoes. I love the bright colours. And you don’t even have to play golf to own a pair.
The ECCO team gave us a tour of their design and development centres. The above photo is of one of the shoe designers sketching away in his creative space. This was where I was able to check out how they made shoes. The designer in me was skipping along doing the happy dance – I was so fascinated by everything!
I saw a huge selection of high quality leathers that had been developed at their tanneries. From soft, supple, natural toned, buttery leathers, to striking, patent leather in bright red with crocodile skin embossing.
Apparently, ECCO produce such high-quality leathers, that they sell them on to high end designers brands such as LV, Coach and even Porsche.
This is a “mock-up” for a kid’s shoe. The designer puts together colours and textures, leathers and ribbons to create a more tangible look of the shoe design, and then they make a prototype – pictured in the background.
This is a 3D paper shell of a shoe, onto which a shoe designer has sketched the more functional and technical aspects of a shoe – what can be done with the current range of leathers or straps or velcro or buckles.
From there they create prototypes which are then tested on “foot models” to check for comfort and fit.
I did not know that designing a shoe upper (as opposed to the inner or the sole) is like putting a 3D jigsaw together. There can be up to 50 pieces of leather or fabric all in all kinds of weird shapes.
I discovered that most regular shoes have their upper part stitched or glued onto their sole. But ECCO is the world leader in direct injection soles, where the shoe uppers are placed into a sole mould and the sole material is injected into the mould, bonding directly with the upper.
Apparently it’s the strongest way to attach the sole to the upper, it makes the shoe watertight, very flexible, the sole moulds to your feet and it’s very comfortable etc.
Above left is a photo of the direct injection machines, which were actually funny little robots rolling around the room, hissing and humming. A bit like the Dr. Who Daleks (without the angry shouting).
Above right, is a photo of ME trying to sew bits of leather together to make a shoe upper. It was so tricky and stressful (especially when you have a pro standing next to you). BUT I was actually quite good at it! I was so proud. If ever this blogging thing doesn’t work out, I might go into making my own shoes haha.
We spent hours at the development centre and I can say that I now definitely have a higher respect for shoes made with higher quality materials and craftsmanship. I didn’t realised that the shoe design and making process was so long and complicated!
Overall this was been *such* an enjoyable and valuable adventure for me.
If ECCO’s objective was to get me to realise what the consumer is paying for when they purchase high-quality shoes – it worked.
So now, I’ve found that when ever I pick up a “fashion” shoe – I immediately start to inspect the quality, the way it had been assembled, and I wonder how the materials were sourced. Yay to being a shoe geek!