Interview | Polyforma Creates Shoes Sur Mesure, Talks Slow Design

 We recently had the opportunity to meet with design head Rokas Bernotas of Berlin design firm Polyforma. The tenet driving Polyforma and its interesting lookbook of shoes sur mesure is slow fashion, or more appropriately, slow design. Instead of wielding an arsenal of goods in the shortest and least expensive means possible, Polyforma has taken into consideration how their goods are rendered and what lasting impact they will have on the communities in which they’ve been produced.

Everything from carbon footprints to source material is scrutinized with laser accuracy. The physical process of creation hearkens back to traditional handmade methods that were essentially the techniques that made artisans and tradesmen the best of their breed. Alas, perhaps Polyforma is the last of a dying breed. But they are also certainly the first of their kind applying these two approaches to the art of making a fashionable shoe.

Crave: Who and what are Polyforma Design?

POLYFORMA: We are a small team of creatives, based in Berlin, that focus on traditional, authentic manufacturing processes and qualities of various natural materials to make functional, long-lasting shoes that resemble sneaker aesthetics.

Polyforma is a design team based in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Polyforma.

Polyforma is a design team based in Berlin.

Let’s get down to the brass tacks. What is this brave new shoe?

Nothing really new, maybe quite opposite, it’s more old than new. Our idea is to apply old, traditional manufacturing practices that in the past pushed Italian shoemaking image to the very top, and use carefully, transparently selected materials in order to create a product that would be really authentic. Many things changed since old days so it is not an easy process. It is also a slow process, which is quite opposite to the current fashion direction. But I think there is always a niche of people who really appreciate this tradition of making things by hand and authenticity and all that comes with it.

Also: Essentials | The Revival of Retro Sneakers

You are releasing a line of shoes that could easily be considered haute-basket/haute-trainer/haute-sneaker. Where does the ‘design’ in the name play a part in this new release?

We always aim to achieve simplicity and function within our work and we like to think that design is an outcome of this functionality. Our shoes are definitely not for sport, but sport is a big part of our life too so inspiration comes from it as well.

Photo courtesy of Polyforma.

Polyforma hopes to revolutionize shoemaking by combining traditional methods with present day tech.

Why trainers? Why not hats or more traditional garments that have a longer history in hand crafted good?

Well we love shoes, that’s already enough reason to try to make them as good as possible. A few years ago more and more often we got to know that Italian shoe industry is suffering from cheap outsourcing and trends towards fast fashion. Many workshops have been closing down since. So the idea we had that time was to be a part of reviving this old industry and keeping it alive for as long as possible. Maybe in the future we will introduce more product categories that would share the same authenticity and craftsmanship.

What’s the design process from the first visual concept to the physical shoe?

From inspiration to idea, from there sketching a lot and finally when we have something more concrete we develop a prototype. Usually it takes a couple of changes till we are happy about it. And then there is a continuous improvement of our products. By getting the feedback from our customers and working with various artisans we keep improving our shoes to make them lighter, more comfortable and more durable.

Is fashion a dirty word? How does your brand reconcile itself between the two worlds of fashion and design?

Yes, fashion is a dirty word. However it is also a result of endless creativity that so many of us cannot live without. We believe it is possible to live well with less and still be stylish. Transparency and sustainability are very important for us. They are pillars of what we do as an ethical business and we believe every fashion business should be accountable for what they do.

As an athletic shoe, is Polyforma educating sporty types on design or design types on sport? Who is this shoe for?

Most of our customers come from creative industries or they are people who have appreciation for design and fashion. So I guess we could teach some sporty types about design and not other way around.

The Polyforma look book ranges from high tops to simple trainers.

The Polyforma lookbook ranges from high tops to simple trainers.

What’s the composition of the shoe? What does it feel like to wear?

We put a lot of care and attention in sourcing our materials. Sourcing is also a transparent process as we disclose all our suppliers on our website so our customers can be fully informed and be sure about their purchase decisions. Three main things we look for when we choose our materials are quality, impact on environment and local communities and finally longevity and re-use cycle of materials as we aim to be able to repair all our products for continuous use.

Probably the most important material for us is leather. We have mapped all steps in the leather production and we source the best hides we can find. All leathers come from an identified source, and are tanned using no chemicals or heavy metals in tannery in Tuscany using the same process for many generations. The whole process later defines the wearer’s experience as leather ages beautifully and adapts to his or hers wearing habits. Some of our shoes might take some time to break in but the result is really comfortable shoes that can last a lifetime.

What’s next up in the future? 3D printing? Shoes sur mesure?

No drastic changes as 3d printing. Still main focus on traditional craftsmanship and maybe later other product categories that would share the same values.

Where can we buy the shoe?

We make shoes individually for each customer and sell online only at We offer free worldwide delivery so international customers are welcome.

All photos courtesy of Polyforma.