Skateboarding Legend Mike Vallely And Cariuma Drop First Completely Vegan Pro Skate Shoe
On Sunday, rising sustainable sneaker brand Cariuma, which was founded in 2018 and formed its skate team in October 2020, announced its first ever 100% vegan pro shoe in collaboration with team member Mike Vallely.
Though Cariuma has produced vegan sneakers, this is the first vegan skate shoe of its kind, made of high performance vegan suede that is 2.5 times more resistant than animal suede. The Brazilian brand has initially attracted consumers and pro skaters alike for its commitment to sustainable practices—even sometimes at the expense of its own bottom line.
But now, with the Vallely pro model, Cariuma has produced a shoe that, regardless of its sustainable manufacturing or vegan materials, is simply more durable than those of its competitors made with animal suede.
Cariuma co-founder Fernando Porto, who grew up skateboarding, had long wanted to collaborate with Vallely. “I’ve been a fan of his since I was very young,” Porto said. “For me it’s a big honor just to do something with him.”
Porto used to main Vallely when he’d play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skatergrowing up. He was overwhelmed in his first Zoom meeting with the skateboarding legend. “When he opened his camera, I looked at him and I was like, ‘Damn, I’m talking to Mike Vallely,’” Porto said.
Vallely, 51, turned pro in 1987 and is, as Porto put it, “one of the three main architects of modern skateboarding.” Through the years he has skated for such industry mainstays as Powell Skateboards and Element. As his competitive career began to wind down in 2015, however, he also began to move away from sponsorships. He founded his own company, Street Plant, that year.
“I felt strongly that I had a lot to give to skateboarding still, and I was doing that for five years through my own brand,” said Vallely, who has also been the lead vocalist for punk band Black Flag since 2013. “I had moved away from sponsorships and those types of relationships. I’d gotten to a certain age and that had run its course, and I needed to focus on running my own company. Five years in, I was thinking there might be something else out there and new opportunities to get reengaged as a pro skater, not a competitive pro skater.”
Last December, Vallely was one of 10 skateboarders announced to Cariuma’s inaugural skate team. The others are largely still active in competition; fellow American Jagger Eaton, 20, just took bronze in the inaugural men’s street final at the Tokyo Olympics. Brazil’s Kelvin Hoefler, 28, took silver in Tokyo.
In Sunday’s SLS Super Crown men’s final, an event Cariuma entitled, four of eight finalists (Eaton, Hoefler, Gustavo Ribeiro and Lucas Rabelo) were on Cariuma’s team, more than legacy brands Nike SB and adidas. Eaton took first place for the men. In fact, the entire men’s podium, with Rabelo finishing second and Ribeiro finishing third, featured Cariuma skaters.
“The timing was so great for me and it was just a feeling of elation to be recognized by a brand that was new and fresh and built on a different business model and on the come up, as opposed to everything else in skateboarding that’s starting to feel old and worn out,” Vallely told me. “I felt so blessed to have taken the path I’ve taken.”
“Cariuma has a very diverse team; a few people are much more street skaters, a few people are more on the competition side,” said Porto. “But every single person in the team, no matter if it’s an Olympic medalist or someone who’s in skateboarding for 20 years already, everyone looks up to Mike Vallely.”
After Cariuma launched its CATIBA Pro skate shoe, the company asked its skaters to send back their worn-out shoes to analyze the areas that needed extra reinforcement due to the heavy beating skate shoes take in the course of a given run or contest.
Thus, anyone who owns the CATIBA Pro and takes a look at the Vallely pro model will immediately notice the extra reinforcement around the toe with the natural rubber outsole. Inside, the recycled mesh lining reinforces the recycled nylon, making this vegan suede more durable than animal suede or canvas, the materials found in the vast majority of skate shoes.
“Our big vegan audience is going to freak out about it, and on the skateboarding side being much more resistant would be the most sustainable thing no matter what,” Porto said. “If you make the shoes last longer, it’s already the most sustainable thing you can do in skateboarding shoes.”
Aesthetically, the shoe nods to Vallely’s love of basketball shoes. It comes in four colorways: charcoal, black, blue and white.
“We don’t consider any product as finished,” Porto said. “We’re always looking at each product and trying to improve, improve, improve. If you look at the OCA Low, this shoe is much better today than it was two years ago, and next year if you buy the shoe I can guarantee it’s going to be much better.”
Vallely has always been conscious of where the food and consumer products he buys come from, with an eye toward sustainability. “I find a true north in that kind of consumption,” he says. To wit, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when pro skaters would commonly smash their boards in a misguided attempt to embrace a punk rock ethos, Vallely always felt put-off. “I was always just like, how could you look at your skateboard as being so disposable, like a box of Kleenex?” Vallely said. “I always tried to make my board last as long as possible and tried to respect that they came from trees.”
All that being said, however, as a skater, durability and longevity are the most important qualities when it comes to footwear. Making shoes last longer, replacing them less frequently, is also the most sustainable practice, even outside of using vegan suede.
“Performance is the most important,” Vallely said. “The shoe has to be durable, it has to last, it has to have a longer lifespan. It can’t be something that breaks down fast. If skaters skate in shoes that aren’t durable and don’t last a long time and going through shoes very fast, that will trickle down through the market.”
Anything he is going to be involved in or put his name on, Vallely says, is going to be a high-quality product that lasts. The fact that the Vallely pro model is also the first to be made of vegan suede and sustainable manufacturing is just the icing on the cake.
“Forget my involvement; I’ve just been waiting for a company that would come along, shake things up and do things different, and change the trajectory of the skateboard business, like Cariuma has” Vallely said.
Porto is the first to admit that manufacturing sustainable shoes—now with a proprietary vegan suede—takes longer and costs more, which is why Cariuma is one of the only companies doing it. There is only one supplier Cariuma can use for its vegan suede, because the company worked with him for two years developing it.
And with Covid-19 shockwaves continuing to wreak havoc on the global consumer supply chain even for well-established materials and goods, launching a new product with such limited sourcing during the pandemic hasn’t been for the faint of heart.
“You have to prepare really well; the supply chain is more complex for sure,” Porto said. “The materials are more expensive; anytime you go for anything that’s more sustainable and especially if it’s not more widely available, the big guys don’t usually go for the more sustainable option.”
Cariuma last week announced its recent B Corp Certification, the first ever skateboarding shoe company to hold the certification. Certified B Corporations must complete a B Impact Assessment to evaluate how their operations and business model impact their workers, community, environment and customers.
Other outdoors and action sports brands with B Corp Certifications include Patagonia, Burton and Comet Skateboards. Few major footwear brands appear on the list, but Veja, TOMS and Allbirds are three most people would know.
“Cariuma is the first brand of significance to do things in a sustainable way with a certain ethos,” Vallely said. “The messaging is very positive and forward-thinking. I think it’s the start of an evolution in skateboard manufacturing, and I hope it translates into other categories in skateboarding.”
The Vallely is available exclusively on Cariuma’s website and retails for $89.