Workplace Innovations · · 8 min read

The Rebrand of Luxury: How Handcrafted Luxury Sneakers Can Create Artisan Sustainability

Meet Crafted Society, the social enterprise redefining what a luxury brand is and should be. Crafted Society was born out of a passion to create exquisite handcrafted luxury sneakers with the most talented artisans of Italy. And also use the products as a vehicle for positive social impact while hel

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Meet Crafted Society, the social enterprise redefining what a luxury brand is and should be. Crafted Society was born out of a passion to create exquisite handcrafted luxury sneakers with the most talented artisans of Italy.

And also use the products as a vehicle for positive social impact while helping to preserve authentic and traditional craftsmanship.

To preserve the crafts the artisans must transfer their knowledge to the next generation but this is an increasingly difficult task, mainly due to the ‘secrecy’ which has surrounded these talented humans for decades.

Crafted Society decided it was time to challenge convention, the founder decided it was time for TRANSPARENCY to triumph over secrecy.

Below is a Q&A with Martin Johnston, the founder of Crafted Society.

What inspired you to start Crafted Society and what is its mission?

In mid 2015, I had arrived at a career crossroads, and I wanted to evaluate my own life’s purpose and study if I was in fact fulfilling my own destiny.  My wife and I decided to go and volunteer at an non-profit day care centre set up to provide education to the slum children of New Delhi. It was an incredibly humbling experience for the pair of us which would later help shape our own business which we were starting to think about.

After the trip to Delhi, we made the conscious decision to follow our own dream and from day 1 we knew exactly what we wanted to create –  timeless, artisanal handcrafted products by master (Italian = represented the best of the best) craftsmen and craftswomen which all of the luxury brands talk about, all of the time.

“We set off on a journey around Italy, with just our dreams, determination and a couple of leads of promising artisans. We didn’t even have a brand name.”

Very early into the journey it became clear that it was going to be a challenge to find these artisans as the luxury brands they produce for, do not publish information on who they are or how you can find them. The artisans themselves are not allowed to publicly communicate who they produce for as they are sworn to water tight confidentiality clauses.Through the help of some friends we were able to meet with several master artisans. At our first meetings we never spoke about what we wanted to produce, we only asked to hear their stories. These stories were inspirational but tinged with a great fear.


Categorically, all of the artisans we interviewed all identified one major threat towards their craft, business and livelihood – their constant struggle to identify, train and educate the next generation of artisans.

“If a solution was not found, all of the artisans are facing a serious threat towards a sustainable future.”

It was then we decided to preserve a crafted society, hence the brand name. We were going to build a new~luxury brand which would based on our principles and values and one which would act completely opposite to that of the traditional luxury brands. We had not only found our brand name but we had found our purpose.

A purpose which was driven by putting education central to what we stand for which is to use the power of transparent craftsmanship to inspire, empower and educate the next generation. We want to give a new set of values towards luxury, re-brand it so to speak. We do that through our mission to use Luxury for GOOD™.

Mario and Giacamo shoemakers
Mario and Giacamo shoemakers

How does Crafted Society go about truly being transparent and how can other companies be more transparent in their production process?

There is a great quote by the philosopher Socrates which shaped our approach…..

“the secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

If the traditional approach towards building a luxury brand is driven by profit over purpose, exclusiveness over inclusiveness, secrecy over transparency, controlling over empowerment and planning over experimentation then we wanted to try and see how doing the exact opposite could succeed. Transparency was central towards us achieving our goal as ethics without transparency is like salt without pepper.

You can’t have one without the other. If you are sustainable but not transparent, how sustainable are you? If you have a social responsibility but are not transparent about how you achieve your impact, how ethical are you?


We do not only disclose our artisans (primary level suppliers), but we also disclose secondary (components and packaging) and tertiary (raw materials) level suppliers.

“The Made in Italy label has long been abused by brands seeking higher profit margins. They assemble their products in cheaper labour markets and then send almost finished goods to Italy for labelling which is not only damaging to the local artisans but also misleading towards the consumer.”

When we say “Made in Italy” we back it up with the complete picture. We wanted to create a brand which is putting all the components of what we call Luxury for GOOD™ into practice through our transparent, ethical, sustainable and socially responsible approach.

There are many brands that are ethical, or working on their sustainable footprint or giving some of their profits away to support good causes. But complete transparency if adopted in full, will shake the industry. When you take that pledge, it becomes you – and you have a higher moral compass to spa with in your decision making.

Through technology, times are changing at a speed we have never before seen. Benjamin Herzberg, of the World Bank Institute, stated “Now, in the hyper-connected and ever evolving world, transparency is the new power.”We are already looking into block chaining our entire supply chain which will provide a complete non biased fact & data based assessment of our supply chain because the new socially conscious consumer of generations x,y & z are demanding transparency and those that do not provide it will ultimately disappear.

I really believe it is a black and white conversation when it comes to transparency. You either are or are not. If you open the door, you have to walk completely through and embrace it, because for those who do, it will become their strongest asset and drive both brand loyalty and bottom line returns.

What is the 1% Pledge that Crafted Society has committed to?

The time Lise and I spent in India was priceless. We left having been inspired yet heartbroken at the same time. The donation we made enabled Harmony House to take 10 new kids, the same age as our own (2&5yrs), out of the slums and pay for their education for an entire year.

I had also seen first hand from my time as the EMEA Managing Director for Toms shoes how using business as a force for GOOD could support disadvantaged children in socially challenging environments.

We both had a personal passion to use our business for good – so part of our Luxury for Good mission is centered around giving back. In fact, when we were conceptualizing how and what and from where to give back, our commitment towards transparency served as our guiding light.

We chose to give a % of our turnover and not profit to support education based causes – hence our 1% pledge.We have supported projects so far in India with our continued support for the NGO Harmony House, Mozambique by supporting the inclusive world cup for both girls and boys living in Maputo where they are educated on topics ranging from social inclusion, gender equality to domestic violence and health care, to religious inclusion in Bosnia for children of muslim and christian backgrounds who were provided an opportunity for the first time to actually play together as opposed towards being segregated, through our support of the NGO Inter Campus – the social responsibility arm of the world famous Inter Milan soccer team.

Harmony House_and_crafted_society_luxury_sneakers

Why did you choose #4 on the SDG’s list to help support?

There is an old proverb which states that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors but simply have it on loan from our children. As parents to two young children, education plays a central role within our family life, but we also believe that access to quality education should be a basic human right.We researched a lot about the 17 goals from the UN and came to the conclusion that the majority of the goals will not be achieved without education playing a central role.

“There are more than 1 billion people globally who are illiterate and approximately 100 million are children the same age as our own who do not have access to quality education.”

That is the next generation of possible doctors, lawyers, athletes, artisans, local community leaders and change makers. Education and knowledge transfer is central to the artisans we produce with and is something much bigger in itself than Crafted Society. Ultimately, it was very much a personal choice by Lise and myself and fits in with our own personal goals to be the best parents we can be while also positively contributing towards the advancement of humanity.

What does sustainability and ethics mean to you as a CEO of a brand?

I honestly believe that sustainability is no longer an exception but an expectation. It plays a central role within what we create, from helping to sustain the livelihood of the artisans, to the tanneries we purchase our hides from (all certified by-products of the meat industry and we do not use any exotic skins) to the certified nickel-free hardware we use on our goods. We are continually seeking innovate and advanced ways to improve our sustainable footprint.

When you are offering complete transparency, your internal code of conduct on matters such as sustainability, ethics, culture and social responsibility is there for everyone to judge so it drives you to continually learn, adapt, adopt and improve. If we continue to drive impact on all of our luxury for good commitments and continue to create desirable products we have a real opportunity to make GOOD, the new COOL.  In fact our TESSR (transparency, ethics, sustainability and social responsibility) approach mixed with our as ethics and product proposition is what is most exciting to the group of potential investors we are now in talks with.

What advice would you give to an aspiring social entrepreneur to start their own social impact brand?

Don’t rush into starting something before you know your why. Identify the problem and ensure your business is offering a solution which your customers can engage and relate with. We knew exactly what we were going to create, but we needed to know why.

Through our journey of discovery to India and through Italy – we were able to arrive at our purpose, and when you have a purpose which is beyond profit-only it will drive your passion to succeed when you are experiencing lows and questioning your own sanity. Our purpose has kept our spirits up and has turned out to be our greatest motivator and differentiator in a very traditional and noisy part of the global fashion industry.

“Attach your purpose to a strong product or service, put your customers first and ensure your cost/quality proposition is in balance.”

All areas of the business model have to be in sync for you to truly create the greatest impact. Our products are not only stylish and sustainably created, they provide excellent value which is the benefit of selling directly to the consumer via the digital channel – the unnecessary luxury markups are striped out and passed back to our fans in fair pricing. All of the components must fit together, that will give you the greatest chance of succeeding and being able to have a sustainable and longterm impact which is what all social entrepreneurs are aspiring towards.


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