As an industrial design engineering student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Christiaan Maats became fascinated with the way that products can carry meaning, how they can “embody memories, cultural significance, social status and even a vision for a better future.” Maats, the designer and founder behind OAT Shoes, the world’s first biodegradable shoes that bloom, understands the importance of building a brand around sustainability and the power of storytelling.
While Maats’ interests have always been more inclined towards the psychological – understanding human behaviours and patterns, his academic research at the University of New South Wales (Australia) turned him onto the subject of environmental sustainability. From there, he became deeply drawn to the natural world’s constant ability to regenerate, renew and reinvent itself and saw the potential in exploring the intersections of design, business and nature.
His journey to found OAT Shoes began as part of a graduation project that revolved around technical footwear innovation. In researching footwear design in the late 2000s, he realized that “sustainability was something that had to be part of any new brand or company.” Wanting to provide consumers with the ease of throwing out their shoes, while feeling good about it, Christiaan designed the world’s first biodegradable shoe that blooms. From purchase to disposal, OAT Shoes involves the wearer as part the natural cycle of life: “by planting your shoes, you create new life in the form of flowers.”
Professionally, Christiaan strives to facilitate awareness and action on both environmental and personal well-being, which is also reflected in the OAT Shoes logo. Translating visually to a circle, triangle and plus sign, the logo embodies the brand’s core values: to unite, create and inspire. Christiaan also notes that OAT is an acronym for Of All Times, which means the cycle of life at all times.
In building OAT Shoes, Maats refused to compromise on the biodegradability of the shoe. He also wanted the flower seeds to remain inside the shoe. These choices, he notes, limited OAT’s market and made it harder to create a commercially viable product. The brand also sourced all of its materials and production within Europe, which was a source of pride as well as a challenge that became too great to overcome. Innovating a product, Maats notes, “really means having to innovate a whole supply chain and that takes time, money and a lot of energy.”