Mawuse Ziegbe: Camper has been in the Australian market for over 20 years. The brand was founded in 1975 in Mallorca, Spain, which is where our headquarters are today.
Innovative design has always been core to our mission. Our iconic styles are silhouettes that are unique in the market, from Pelotas, which features a cushioning system of mini balls on the outsole, to Peu Cami, which is shaped like a foot and has an elastic lacing system.
We also like to collaborate with innovative voices in the design world under our Camper Together initiative. We partner with renowned architects to create distinctive stores, so each of our five Australian stores has a different fit-out. We’ve released footwear collaborations with designers like Kiko Kostadinov and ADERERROR.
Moving forward, our product strategy and communication will continue to push boundaries and remain true to our unconventional DNA. However, remaining relevant also means taking care of the basics: quality footwear, excellent customer service, strong distribution, and doing business responsibly.
IR: How would you describe the footwear landscape right now?
MZ: Full of opportunity. Globally, there is room for disruption, which we have seen with the rise of brands such as Allbirds, Veja, and On Running. Consumers are making more considered purchase decisions, driven by technology, comfort, sustainability, and design, and footwear brands need to be clear about the value we add.
IR: How would you describe the Camper customer and how has he/she evolved over the years?
MZ: The Camper customer appreciates compelling design that does not come at the expense of quality. I often say we make basics with a twist. We’re a family business with deep shoemaking expertise so we know how to make a comfortable, durable product. However, we like to use bold colours, mix unexpected materials, and play with texture and shape in ways that set us apart from other brands. This product approach, along with our association with architects and designers, often attracts creative professionals.
We’re a bit of a cult brand in the sense that many of our customers discovered us years ago – perhaps through a trip to Europe or a memorable campaign or they fell in love with a shoe – and stayed with us over the years. Our strategy for finding the next generation of Camper consumers is continuing to offer inventive footwear concepts and having a digital-first marketing strategy. For example, our heel Kobarah is a colourful piece of EVA [ethylene-vinyl acetate] that snakes around the foot and has really resonated on social media. The week we launched it in Australia it nearly sold out.
IR: Since the pandemic hit, it’s become clear that omnichannel is where the future of retail lies. Tell me about what Camper is doing in that space and its plans for direct-to-consumer e-commerce.
MZ: Developing our omnichannel strategy has been an important priority for us in recent years. We’ve been fulfilling Camper.com orders from our Australian stores since 2017 and expanded our local e-commerce fulfilment capacity that same year. We sell online products in our stores via iPads, which allows our retail teams to provide a wider catalogue and assist in finding the right solution for the customer.
The pandemic really accelerated the speed of an ongoing digital focus. We have been trialling efforts to connect with the consumer at home, and we recently introduced virtual shopping appointments. We can guide customers through the collection, answer questions, offer styling advice, and ship the product directly to their home. It’s a way to amplify the digital shopping experience.
IR: Tell me about Camper’s physical store network plans. I know Camper stores have a great design element. Can you tell me about the thinking behind that and some of the coolest stores from around the world?
MZ: Our store strategy reflects our approach of leading with innovation and imagination. The partnerships with architects are very collaborative and combine the designer’s background, the store location, and Camper’s vision. Our Emporium Melbourne location was designed by Atelier Marko Brajovic and the ceiling is densely covered in thousands of red shoelaces; a motif inspired by Brazilian folkloric festivities. The design creatively merged our brand identity with the culture of Brajovic’s native Brazil.
We’ve had to review our store network in the wake of the pandemic, but we are finding opportunities that fit our strategy. We recently opened a location in Düsseldorf, Germany, and a Shanghai flagship is under construction. [This year] has also provided the chance to execute more short-term retail experiences, including a pop-up in Paris for our ADERERROR collaboration and a CAMPERLAB pop-up in Palma de Mallorca.
IR: I feel like there has been a rise in brands wanting to combine comfort and technology with design and style. How is Camper marrying those elements together during its production process?
MZ: Many of our designs use technology to establish a desired look or shape while enhancing the benefits of the shoe. We use XL Extralight EVA in many of our outsoles because it can provide an on-trend, chunky silhouette without the heaviness of other materials. CRCLR is a unisex sneaker inspired by bicycle tires that leverages Gore-Tex Surround technology for a style that is waterproof yet breathable. We offer a range of boots with Michelin rubber outsoles for firm grip in harsh climates. We’ve found success building footwear concepts that embrace the way the technology informs the silhouette.
IR: Tell me about CAMPERLAB and how it’s targeting a new generation of customers.
MZ: CAMPERLAB has been under the leadership of Creative Director Achilles Ion Gabriel since 2020, and he has married our core brand tenets of fun and imagination with sustainability and luxury. The price point is elevated and wholesale distribution is limited to select partners, such as SSENSE and Matches Fashion, which are known for their curation and ability to introduce their customers to another side of Camper. CAMPERLAB also has three retail locations – in New York City, Paris, and London.
While the distribution is controlled, the spirit of CAMPERLAB is very inclusive. Gabriel moved to Mallorca and has been inspired by the island’s rugged beauty and culture. Designs like Traktori represent Gabriel’s vision of Mallorquin farmers’ footwear, but reimagined in pop colours and exaggerated shapes. The CAMPERLAB campaigns are deliberately cheeky and playful. It’s about attracting the customer who is looking for a well-made product with an upbeat vibe.
IR: Tell me about Camper’s work in sustainability and your plans for the future.
MZ: We term our approach to sustainability “A Little Better, Never Perfect,” because we will never stop improving our efforts in this space.
We’re a manufacturing company, so we’re focused on responsible material sourcing, reducing the environmental impact of our production, using recycled elements, and eventually closing the loop and diverting products from landfill. To control the supply chain effectively, we work with only a few factories. Most of our leather is Leather Working Group-certified and we use Better Cotton Initiative textiles, including organic and recycled cotton. In 2020, 39 per cent of our collection had a significant sustainable element, while in 2021 that figure is 82 per cent. Our goal is to reach 100 per cent by 2025.
We take a holistic view to sustainability, which includes supporting our communities, a commitment to diversity, and conducting ethical business. Some of our community efforts include donations from the sale of some styles to the conservation organisation Save The Med Foundation, and our Ethical Fashion Initiative partnership, through which we source fabrics produced by artisans throughout Africa. As a senior leader, I am tasked with fostering a safe and inclusive workplace and instilling this responsibility among my team members.
Transparency and traceability are key to achieving our goals, so we publish our sustainability initiatives, KPIs, sourcing information and more on our website.
IR: I think it’s really fascinating hearing about all the cool technology and materials that brands are sourcing for sustainable footwear manufacturing. What have been some of the cool insights you’ve gathered during Camper’s sustainability journey in this regard?
MZ: It’s always interesting to learn what can be recycled and see the end result. The fabric webbing on our sandals is made from recycled PET [polyethylene terephthalate] bottles. Our Together Ecoalf sneakers feature recycled nylon and recycled EVA. We’re working to incorporate more recycled cotton and experimenting with reusing leather offcuts.
The manufacturing process can be engineered to reduce waste by limiting the amount of different materials in a shoe, which has led us to using more mono-material uppers. We recently launched a project to grind down our products Wabi and Kobarah at the end of their life and make new shoes in the future. We’re exploring the use of alternative materials, such as hemp, which requires less water usage, and biodegradable mushroom fibres.
Shoe care and shoe repair are instrumental in extending the life of the product, which can reduce our carbon impact by 20-30 per cent. In that context, durable, long-lasting product is core to our sustainability commitments. By using digital documentation, the company has saved roughly 20,000 pages a year, and we encourage customers to only use digital receipts. We’re becoming more vigilant about our energy consumption in our offices as well. The little things do make a difference.