Feature

New Brunswick Shoemaker’s Earth-Conscious Shoes Off on the Right Foot

Paul Kasdan with his Chenna Baree shoes. Image: YouTube

A Saint John entrepreneur is getting ready to finally take his of earth-conscious shoes to market.

Shoemaker Paul Kasdan is the founder of Chenna Baree shoes – vegan, biodegradable footwear made out of natural linen and natural rubber. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in the spring, Kasdan says his first shipment of 2,450 shoes is on its way to New Brunswick and are expected to arrive by the end of the month.

“The shoes were a big, long process,” he says. “Actually trying to bring that into being was not easy.”

Kasdan is a shoemaker by trade but has also worked in the IT industry. When his IT company ClinicServer sold in 2014, he decided it was time start a new project in orthopaedics.

“I’ve been a shoe maker since I was 18-years-old and I spent 10 years in IT outside of the whole shoe making, orthopaedic world,” says Kasdan. “I basically got really burned out, so when my company sold, I decided I wanted to do something a little bit different. I’ve done orthopaedics all my life and then I started working on this [project].”

Chenna Baree shoes are evolved from Kung Fu training shoes worn by Shaolin monks and are designed to be flexible, practical and ethical. One of the big challenges of starting Chenna Baree was finding the right factory to make them. Kasdan spent two years learning Chinese and with help of a friend from the area, took several trips to China to find the right, ethical factory that could produce the shoes with the materials and in the quantity he wanted.

“There’s a lot of negative views of China so part of what I want to do is help educate people. China is a very big place,” says Kasdan.

“People know one thing about China, which is they have all these sweat shops in Shenzhen and the southern counties, but they don’t really understand what is the tradition. What is manufacturing and why was China so successful at manufacturing? And the ultimate question is how can we bring it back here?”

The next challenge was startup capital. Kasdan didn’t want to borrow money, so he turned to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, where backers of a certain amount get their own pair(s) or Chenna Baree shoes when complete.

Image: Chenna Baree Facebook

“I found that Kickstarter, that whole crowdfunding concept is really interesting because you not only raise money, but it’s in the form a pre-sales rather than borrowed money,” says Kasdan. “The very first thing you acquire is a bunch of customers, even before you have your product. It’s a very interesting way for startup companies to try to raise capital.”

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. If you reach your funding target, great. But if you don’t, you won’t receive a cent. Kasdan credits media coverage and his approach to pitching his product for being able to raise enough money.

“In the Kickstarter realm, the most successful products are in the technology realm. Shoe companies generally don’t do very well and very few companies that have tried Kickstarters from Saint John have ever succeeded,” he says.

“I wanted to tell my story very authentically. I didn’t hire expensive videographers. I didn’t hire promotion companies and get advice. I basically said ‘you know what? I want to tell the truth and I want to tell it authentically and if people like it, good, and if they don’t, then I just won’t do the project.’ ”

After Kickstarter, Kasdan then had prototypes made. He then made improvements based on those and the final rendition of Chenna Baree shoes are now the shoes on the boat en route to New Brunswick. Some of the shoes are already pre-sold, but the rest will be sold through the website.

Kasdan is also on the hunt for Canadian retailers that are interested in carrying them. With people worldwide looking for quality products that are both good for the earth and to use, he says there’s definitely a huge market for Chenna Baree shoes.

“I’m hoping they go on that kind of scale,” he says. I’d like to be in 100 or 200 retail stores by the end of 2018,” says Kasdan.

“In terms of the U.S., I’m actually looking for a distributor. That’s a massive market, but I’ve had enough positive feedback on the shoe and it’s really an intelligent shoe and it’s really the right time for it. If a distributor was interested, I’m certain there’s a market for the show right now.”