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Above and Below: the eco-friendly take on Converse

Sella Oneko

19th April, 2011

Can you really make cool shoes from old tube seats? If eco-shoe maker Above and Below is anything to go by, says Sella Oneko, yes you can

We’ve had bags made from bottle tops, clothes crafted from recycled parachutes and now, Above and Below are creating Converse-style trainers from old tube seats. Yes, you read right. Tube seats straight from the Jubilee Line.  Entrepreneur Caroline Read and designer Robert Taylor are the duo behind the brand and recently launched collaborations with Vivienne Westwood and artist, Sir Peter Blake. We caught up Caroline to find out more

Sella Oneko: What do people think of the idea of wearing shoes made from old London tube and bus seats?
Caroline Read: ‘The reaction has been hugely positive. People like the idea of owning an actual piece of London; they’re buying an original souvenir or relic of the city. It was also a fantastic complement when Dame Vivienne Westwood made a pair of her famous elevated court shoes with some of our rare vintage fabrics. We’ve since had discussions with a few large footwear manufacturers about doing capsule collections and limited editions for their brands.‘

SO: How did you come up with the idea of making shoes from bus and underground seat covers?
CR: ‘The idea for [the] shoes came to us from a wide range of sources. We had been working with the material for a while and made a range of other products. The fabric is so easy to work with and lends itself to a variety of things. For example, it’s extremely hard wearing and we just love the retro pattern design. It made sense to incorporate the fabrics into a wearable product. Vivienne's involvement also helped us come to a decision. When she puts her stamp of approval on something, its good enough for anyone.‘

SO: Your shoes are made out of recycled materials – has that made making them more of a challenge?
CR: ‘To begin with, there had to be a leap of faith with the factory we used, but not a big one. Recycling and upcycling requires a creative process, and hurdles can be overcome if people are willing to learn new techniques or ways of working. You have to get the right balance of realism and adventure and if you keep to the goals you set yourself; you can see beautiful results. In this case, it’s great to get feedback from different sorts of people from all over the world who get the same buzz out of the idea as you do.’

SO: Your trainers look a bit like Converse’s classic All Stars. Would you say your shoes are the eco version?
CR: ‘Yes and no. I think that [eco-alternatives] are made at a distance from the people who wear them, and our shoe has a stronger construction and is more comfortable as a result. I did wear a pair of eco-alternatives to Converse once and I had to take them off after an afternoon's shopping. They were just too painful, probably because the soles are so thin. Our shoe looks like Converse but it’s not a sports shoe designed to be worn for a short while. They are much better and far more durable than that. In fact the tests we have been doing for wear and comfort have been astonishingly positive.’

SO: Do you have any plans to branch out - maybe into bags or clothes?
CR: ‘Definitely, we’re always experimenting with new materials so watch this space. Our new lines are going to loads of fun and very desirable.’

To find out more, go to: www.aboveandbelowlondon.com

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