Seb Matheson left his corporate job to build a natural sneaker brand, Reefer.
Now Reefer, whose shoes are made from cork, hemp, and rPET fabrics made from waste plastic bottles, is among South Africa's most sustainable shoe brands.
The sneaker brand employs six people permanently and 170 indirectly.
When Seb Matheson founded his natural sneaker brand Reefer, he was clear it needed to tick three boxes; be locally produced, environmentally friendly, and appeal to many people.
After leaving his corporate job, Matheson, a University of Cape Town (UCT) philosophy graduate who describes himself as weirdly and fascinatingly obsessed with shoes, launched Reefer in 2018.
After completing his Philosophy, Politics, and Economics degree at UCT, he pursued a Strategic Brand Communication degree at the Vega College in Cape Town's city centre. That catapulted him to his corporate job, where he spent almost four years before leaving to found Reefer.
Today, the shoe brand, famed for its unique and distinctive cork design, is seen as one of South Africa's most sustainable shoe brands.
Having purchased a significant quantity of shoes throughout his childhood, Matheson found that they often looked the same and were made from mostly the same material.
Looking for both unique and eco-friendly material, Matheson settled for cork as a primary material for his first sneakers range. Later, a range made out of hemp was introduced, proving to be a hit among customers.
"We work closely with a local company that imports cork from Portugal. And we source our cork from that supplier. It's a very high-quality certified cork. With hemp, similarly, we also source from a local supplier that sources from specifically Swaziland," Matheson told Business Insider South Africa.
It also uses rPET fabric, a material made from recycled plastic bottles collected from the oceans.
Although the brand has taken a hard eCommerce approach, Matheson said he is currently in talks with two of South Africa's leading retailers regarding putting Reefer sneakers on their shelves. It currently has a showroom at the company's head office and has 15 stockists across the country.
"The plan would be in the near future, to open up a brick-and-mortar store would be a great goal," said Matheson.
Building a sustainable brand did not come without its challenges. One of its most significant tests has been figuring out how the different unique materials used, such as cork and hemp, respond to various production stresses.
"The biggest challenge was seeing how these different materials react to going through a bit of a factory line, seeing how they perform with heat and with cooling, seeing how they wear," said Matheson.
"The other biggest challenge is being able to source better for the environment components for shoemaking. I think South Africa is a bit limited in terms of what we can do locally. It takes a lot of investment to be able to develop new things. We've got so many ideas, so many shoe designs using different products that we'd like to launch, but we are a little bit restricted," he said.
Matheson is looking next to grow the brand by adding alternative categories such as bags and expanding its offering in its women category.
The company has managed to employ six full-time people with about 170 people employed indirectly.