‘less is more’ for the planet
wal&pai founder harel waldman on crafting footwear with mindful materials
Harel is vegan, loves and respect animals and feels conflict in making leather products. As owner of the LA-based shoe brand Wal & Pai, Harel Waldman plans to replace leather as much as possible for future collections with alternative raw materials, such as vegan plant-based materials that are not woven textiles. Why?
"I do believe this direction is the future of the fashion industry. Sustainable eco-friendly materials are at the top of my wish list,” said Harel while talking to Ambitist.
the future of materials for fashion
Harel often questions whether the world really needs any more products and the answer is: it doesn’t. He believes the entire population of the planet can live off leftover products that are out there for a long time.
“Even if the global fashion industry stops and no one ever produces a single pair of shoes or RTW again, there are enough products we can re-use from now on. The waste of our industry is the number one waste in the world,”
says Harel. In his shoe business, he uses animal by-products. These are raw materials from sustainable, animal-friendly and eco-safe tanneries, as a by-product of the food industry.
“Man-made materials, plastics and chemicals are the worst for us and the planet, and I prefer to stay away from those as much as I can. I don't use any animal skins which are not by-products or come from cruelty-free farming.” he says.
less is more
Harel has always loved vintage clothing and accessories: the heritage craftsmanship, raw materials, simple details, dreaming of previous wearers, their life experiences and stories. That’s why his brand’s DNA is based on simple elements: quality, simplicity, modernity and comfort. Two main elements describe his vision best: minimal aesthetics and “less is more”.
Harel uses only clean naked vegetable leathers, the least amount of finishes and effects. Key iconic details include raw edges, stitches only as decorations, and the least amount of cuts and seams. Harel likes his designs to incorporate bold shapes and silhouettes, rather than extra details like metals and ornamentation. “Simplicity and quality are my main focus of design,” he says.
falling in love with shoes
Born in Israel, Harel lives with his wife, two boys, cats and dog in LA, bringing along extensive experience in the fashion industry. However, his career started by mistake. Harel had an art and music background and had planned for a future in the areas of graphic design and music. When his friend challenged him to try to get into fashion school, he was admitted and got into the fashion world.
And never got out.
Years later, after working with many fashion brands in Europe and NY, he landed a job as a creative director for a footwear company in Seattle (again, by mistake). “I like changes and challenges, so it was an easy transition for me,” says Harel.
He soon found himself creative director for a large multi-brand footwear company, with zero knowledge or experience in footwear. It was exactly what the owner wanted — someone not from the shoe world — to lead the creative teams. During the 11 years in that role Harel directed all creative teams, from low-end private label to high-profile branded products. “I fell in love with shoes,” he says simply.
From there, he worked as creative director for many major brands in the US and Europe, leading design and creative teams, as well as designing for some of the biggest names in the industry.
from east coast to west coast
Moving from Seattle to LA was a milestone. The city’s casual and progressive lifestyle shaped his perspective and design aesthetic. The west coast market and customers changed from the dressy tailoring Harel was accustomed to, to streetwear and the more casual lifestyle which shaped the way the industry worked. “I love the west coast lifestyle, the vibe, the colors. The beaches on one side and the desert on the other reminded me much of where I came from, Israel,” he says.
That’s when he started to think of building his own aesthetic, his own branded lifestyle, with no direct connection to what other brands and fashion were doing. So he launched Wal&Pai in 2014, to tell his story and share his worldview and vision.
The business took off quite rapidly. New York multi-brand concept store Totokaelo was one of the first supporters of the brand. His wife, who helped with the business, also came from the fashion industry and introduced Wal & Pai to top retailers, such as Totokaelo, Need Supply, Mohawk General Store and more.
No matter his success, Harel remains true to his beliefs for sustainability and eco-friendly products.
"I do think we now live in very dangerous times for us as visitors on this planet and we will for sure destroy our own world and sources if we don't act immediately.”