The honest hands of Belgian designer Mats Rombaut have drawn up a durable blueprint that defines his ethical unisex fashion label. His deceptively simple and innovative shoe designs are crafted from the most uncanny but clever and biodegradable materials—think: fig tree bark and potato starch. Having collaborated with brands such as the gender-bending fashion label Barragán, with results that are equally united in fresh purpose, clever concept and convincing delivery, we’re bound to say that ROMBAUT is a treasure of a find.
Hi Mats! You communicate ecological awareness through design. Where does this drive come from?
Doing things in an ecological way was the only option for me. I read a lot about the impact of the fashion industry and animal agriculture on the environment and their role in climate change. It was a logic step and it doesn’t require extra effort for me. Every time I read an article on climate change, my choice is reassured.
With a shoe named after the environmental spokesperson of our time, Bernie Sanders, would you consider your work political?
I do consider it to be political—but more in the choice of materials than in clearly visible messages. It is rather subtle. I roll my eyes so hard when “established” brands come with inspiring slogans written on a ‘Made in Bangladesh’ t-shirt, but that is considered being political in fashion.
How are you challenging our conception of luxury and sustainability in fashion? What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury is different for everyone. For me luxury is freedom to choose whatever I want, whenever I want—without harming anyone. Luxury is to be able to make choices with a good conscience; to do something that is meaningful to me. It is also a luxury to make the time to enjoy things I love doing. Today that time has become scarce.
I love his spontaneity, his aesthetics and his love for food. It felt very free and fun. That was what I was looking for at the time, and also how the collaboration went: spontaneous, free and last minute. It was a chance for me to design something different and to step away from Rombaut’s DNA.
You’ve incorporated some disparate and unusual materials into your shoe designs. What are the most unconventional materials you’ve used so far, and which ones are you hoping to use in the near future?
I used some ‘mushroom leather’ but it’s not on point yet. In the future, I’d like to use some biodegradable plant-based materials that have interesting structures and textures. The only one I currently know about—that is resistant enough for footwear—is Piñatex, made from pineapple leaf fibers.
You’ve drawn inspiration from natural processes, biotech, art and music—Antonio Mingot even converted your collection into a one-hour mix. What inspires you to date, and what do you believe makes your shoes have the ability to be translated into music?
What inspires me is how a shoe can be used as an object of fetishism. Every subculture has their few pairs of shoes that they cling to. I think it’s interesting to mix that up and create hybrids.
Also I’d like to create a fetish shoe, something that an 18-year-old person would get very excited by. Usually these can be tied to certain youth cultures, which in turn are linked to music. So I think any shoe can be turned into music based on the ‘subculture’ it speaks to.
As a young designer, what are you daydreaming of?
About how the world might look like 100 years from now, and different scenarios of how humanity will come to an end.