© Norm

"Our ambition was to redefine the codes of eco-responsible footwear."

Nicolas Lavigna

6 February 2023

Nicolas Lavigna, Antoine Bodart and Arnaud Vanderplancke are the co-founders of Norm. All three of them have been active in the shoe industry for the past ten years, and the three Belgians dreamed of creating a sustainable, transparent and circular sneaker label. Their objective was to rethink the codes of a market they know.

MAD had a talk with Nicolas Lavigna, co-founder and designer of the brand.

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

"My name is Nicolas Lavigna. Passionate about shoes since I was very young, I first studied industrial design at ENSAV la Cambre before starting my activity as a freelance shoe designer. I have been working for shoe brands, mainly luxury brands, for the last 13 years.”

"4 years ago I met my two partners, Antoine and Arnaud, also active in the shoe industry and with that encounter the idea of the Norm project was born. We felt that there was something missing on the market that combined style and eco responsibility. By launching our brand, we wanted to have a positive impact on society while producing a stylish shoe. When we started the project, we learned a lot. We had to test different suppliers before finding the right one. The 3D Knitting technology that we use to produce our shoes is well developed in Asia but in Europe it was mainly used for clothing. 

It is also very important to us that everything that is sourced is as close as possible to the production area of the shoe. The manufacturing is done in Portugal in the Porto region, they have a real know-how there and it allows a good quality-price ratio."

"In April 2019 we decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign for the first model of our collection. We raised €60,000, which allowed us to finance the production of 1,000 pairs. We officially launched the company in June 2019. From there on, we were present at the Bon Marché in Paris as part of the Belgium exhibition, delivered the first customers in January 2020, launched our website in February. Then the covid arrived, which slowed down our sales. The physical shops did not want to market a new brand.”

Why the name 'Norm'?

"Our ambition was to redefine the codes of eco-responsible footwear. We wanted to be a reference, to become the new standard, the new norm in the footwear market, hence the name: Norm.”

"We try to do things with as few compromises as possible, in total transparency: on our manufacturing sites, our materials, the standards we use. The idea was to create a brand that speaks to us and conveys the notions of sustainability, transparency, and circularity. In the footwear environment at the moment, it's very opaque and even the brands that claim to be eco-responsible are often green washing. We are trying to fight against this.”

What can you say about the sneaker industry today?

"Today the sneaker market is really saturated. All the brands are getting into it, there is something for all tastes, prices and manufacturing styles. There is a 'futuristic' movement, with 3D printing in particular. It's very visual at the moment, but not really eco-responsible yet. With DIY, people are repairing their shoes more and more.”

"At Norm we set up the Circle campaign. Our aim was also to think about the end of the shoe before producing it. We offer our customers the opportunity to send back their damaged Norm trainers, at our expense, in exchange for a discount for their next pair. This allows us to send the used pairs back to our sole manufacturer in Portugal. They are crushed, turned into powder and then re-injected into new Norm trainers. Therefore, there are no metal parts in our shoes, otherwise the process would not be possible.”

Norm is both sustainable and innovative? Can you be more specific?

"With Norm, we wanted to break away from the classic shoe manufacturing scheme, reducing the number of components as much as possible and starting directly from the material. Thanks to 3D Knitting, we can use exactly the material we need without wasting it. The upper part of the shoe is knitted in one piece from six plastic bottles, which reduces material waste by 65%. The sole is made of 70% recycled rubber and 30% natural rubber. The rest of the components, laces, ribbons, labels are also made from recycled plastic.”

"We go to material fairs twice a year, in Italy and France. We are always looking out new products. Biomaterials are really the future, and we would like to use more and more natural yarns such as recycled wool or yarns made from cellulose to broaden our offer and propose something other than plastic fibers.”

You benefited from the MAD Fly program this year, how did that help you?

"We first won the Be-Circular award twice from Up Brussels, which allowed us to bounce back from the Covid crisis and get our first coaching sessions. It was very interesting but also a bit frustrating because it was disconnected from the fashion world, where the codes are quite specific.”

"MAD Fly helped us a lot with branding and sales. It was great to be able to talk to coaches who work with or for fashion brands. We reviewed our positioning by asking ourselves the right questions: Who are we? What do we do? What is our message? It's important to get to the bottom of this, to be convinced of our DNA in order to convince our target.”

What advice would you give to starting designers and entrepreneurs?

"I think it is very important to take into account the environment in which you want to sell the product. It is necessary to have a global vision of the sales part. We approached resellers too late on our side, because we were too attached to the idea of selling online."

"We also learned that it was essential to be close to our manufacturers, to go and see them. Digital is good but it has its limits very quickly.”

"What is missing today is authenticity. You must ask yourself the question 'is what you are bringing to the market necessary? Is there room for it or is it just adding to the quantity of existing offers? You have to remain honest and transparent about what you are doing. And finally, you have to be brave, have a lot of patience and passion.”

The call for applications for the MAD Fly coaching program is open from 25 January to 10 March 2023. 

Find the selection criteria and the application form HERE!