Consumers – and their power to spend in support of their values – can push business to be more sustainable and socially responsible. But research has shown that it is a cognitive challenge for consumers to judge objects that embody multiple goals, and so people have difficulty simultaneously valuing brands’ social mission and other goals such as quality or price. Accordingly, there are not yet a lot of brands that have successfully created a social impact value proposition that affects consumers willingness to buy their product.
One new company that is trying to overcome these barriers is Cariuma, a skateboarding shoe brand focused on creating positivity in youth culture and skate scene by leading by example, showing that it is cool to care about people and our planet and at the same time deliver high quality products. In 2021 not only was the company recognized as a Best for the World™ B-Corp, so being in the top 10% of certified companies on environmental performance, but their shoes were also worn by skaters at the Tokyo Olympics, demonstrating their performance characteristics.
David Python, Co-Founder, and CEO of Cariuma recently told me how the brand is focused on “ethics meets aesthetics” delivering cool style with serious heart in a way that has never been done before.
Additionally, I learned that one issue that the brand is committed to is reforestation. This is a special and very personal project for the company as the co-founders, David and Fernando Porto were both born and raised in Brazil. Python told me that from their earliest memories—living in and near coastal cities, where the rainforest and ocean meet—an emotional connection and concern for the natural world was fostered: “reforestation is how we translate our mission into action and fond memories for future good.” Specifically, the company works closely with CEPAN, a Brazilian NGO that specializes in ecological restoration. At every stage of the reforestation process, CEPAN’s expertise and local roots facilitate a collaborative working relationship with Indigenous communities.
As part of my research on purpose-driven business, I recently talked with David to better understand why he co-founded the company, the company’s unique vision and what they have in store for 2022.
Christopher Marquis: How did your backgrounds in corporate footwear shape your vision for Cariuma?
David Python: The experience we had has helped a lot! We wanted to build something that would somehow be the opposite of what we had seen in the industry to date. It has helped to bring me and Fernando together, to begin with. We decided to do things in a different way than the industry does, and that motivated us because we knew that we could do it if we were together. We have over 30 years of combined experience in the footwear industry, so we have seen how the industry operates from within. And we wanted to create a company and a brand that would respect the people and the planet
Marquis: I see that a big part of the brand’s mission is now bringing its presence to skate shops internationally – to bring sustainable, ethical values to more skaters through their local communities. Can you tell us a bit more about why this is so important to you?
Python: Skateshops are one of the keystones of skateboarding culture. For us, being in the skate shops is also a validation for what we stand for, it means for us that our vision of combining sustainability, positivity, and skateboarding is more than a possibility, that it’s a reality. We have profound admiration of skate shop owners and their contribution, and every skater not only knows the shop they get their stuff but very often the name of all the people working there. So this connection that shops have with skaters and the kids is something we value tremendously, and for us, it’s an honor to be chosen to be present on their shelves.
Marquis: Tell us a little bit about your Skate team and what makes them unique? I understand you are the first B-Corp to ever have products worn by medalists in the Olympic Games!
Python: Our number one value in the company is “we start with who”, this is not only how we run Cariuma but also how we build our brand. It is fundamental for us to be with people we admire and that we share values, this is true from the people we recruit to the factories we work with, to of course the skate and surf teams we build. We are very happy to see how the team members individually represent what Cariuma stands for, in their everyday lives, but also when they are together on tour or in a contest. The Cariuma skate and surf teams are filled with people who want to make our planet a better place in their own ways (and of course, they are amazing skaters and surfers!). Our goal is that we all feel challenged to be better and to do good, but that we also feel we are in a safe environment where we can be ourselves. For us, it’s amazing to see that a company that is B-Corp accredited and that embraces the highest standards in sustainability can also create products and have amazing people in the team performing at the highest level in the world. It is possible, and we’re here to prove it!
Marquis: The team at Cariua has said that becoming a B Corp has been a goal for the brand since day 1, can you tell us a little bit about your journey here and starting Cariuma and your a-ha moment?
Python: The story is that Fernando and I chose each other before we chose which business to start or the product to create. Cariuma is the result of the two of us wanting to do something better with our life. We knew we wanted to become business partners and create a brand that we would both be really proud of.
This came from the pain and disappointments from our previous experiences working in the fashion and footwear industry, we had left our executive positions and we wanted to work in a great company and with great people, so we decided to create one! Our a-ha moment was in the Chilean Andes.. we went with our wives snowboarding there and came back and decided to join forces.
Having started from this mindset and such personal goals, it becomes clear why getting the B-Corp accreditation was a no-brainer for us from the start. Becoming a certified B Corp means that we adhere to the highest standards in sustainability and involves an in-depth audit of everything the company does. Every process is checked and audited, from supply chain management to governance, internal policies, and people practices. We saw the accreditation not only as a way for us to check where we were and improve but also as a way to provide proof to our community.
Marquis: Cariuma is the first ever skate shoe brand to become a B-Corp. Why was achieving this certification important for you?
Python: The certification is important for us in many ways, and being the first skate shoe brand is part of that. Cariuma is about bringing positivity to the world, doing good, and respecting the people and the planet – this is one of our contributions to skateboarding, which is especially dear to Fernando (my co-founder) as a skater since a very young age. I find it important to show that being a responsible company and adhering to the highest standards in sustainability does not imply trading off anything. We are showing that one can achieve a B-Corp accreditation and have a durable high-performance skate shoe that is worn by skateboarding Olympic medalists, many of the best skaters in the streets, and the world champions of the SLS Super Crown. We hope to inspire others to start other new brands, and possibly, to inspire the big corporations from our industry to do more meaningful change.
Marquis: What other plans do you have for expansion in 2022?
Python: There are so many exciting things down the line for us for 2022. We just launched our CATIBA Pro (our professional skateboarding sneaker) in September 2020 and until this date, we have only these two styles for skateboarding and a total of five styles in the entire company! While this speaks to our product strategy of only creating durable and timeless styles, there is still so much to do and interesting styles to launch that are already in the oven. In addition, we’re expanding into apparel as we have been receiving ample requests after our team members started to wear our gear.
In addition, there are two very exciting things in line for 2022 worth mentioning. First, we will be in the best skate shops in the world, I am just now back from a trip where I visited 11 countries in a month and had the chance to speak to so many shop owners and great retail partners in so many places, and I am very excited with the energy out there. Especially in current times, when the big corporate brands are not giving much attention to skate and surf shops, we are proud to say that serving them is at the heart of what we do and the contribution we want to make.
Last, it’s also worth mentioning how much we are expanding our reforestation project. We are running a big program in Brazil that involves rebuilding native forests, and that is a huge effort way beyond just the tree-planting site that we directly communicate to customers. We are promoting biodiversity and scaling a program beyond one million trees while being in touch and collaborating with Brazilian indigenous people. We are very proud of that, and it has a special meaning for me personally, as a direct descendant of indigenous people from Brazil.