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NFW Footwear Expert Alan Lugo Talks Sustainability, Plastics, and More

Meet Alan Lugo, our Product Strategy Manager. We sat down with him to talk about his job, his background in the footwear industry, and what he’s excited about with NFW going forward.

To begin our conversation, can you explain what you do as Product Strategy Manager? 

Alan Lugo at NFW's headquarters

Essentially, I work with a range of amazingly smart and talented people here at NFW to think about what our product strategy will be. The decisions we make now and in the near future will shape what our materials and our company will become. We’re all working together to set the stage for the coming years at NFW. 

Tell me a little bit about your background. 

I got my bachelor's in Industrial Design, and then for the last thirteen years I have been working in the footwear industry in a broad range of roles. I started my career as a footwear designer then branched out into the development side. Next, I moved onto a focus of materials and color, most recently focusing on product sustainability which has become my true passion in the field. For example, the “impossible shoe” is a topic in sustainable footwear I’m really interested in.

What does “impossible shoe” mean?

The “impossible shoe” refers to the concept of a shoe constructed entirely out of natural materials that can be recycled. Our idea of an “impossible shoe” is one that has no plastics and therefore no reliance on the petrochemical industry. When we do that, we have a shoe that can be ground up and returned to the earth in a way that will not cause harm or be toxic to people or the environment, even if it's not formally recycled.

Read more about how NFW defines the "impossible shoe."

Alan Lugo working on a shoe

What drives you personally from a sustainability standpoint? Why did NFW’s approach capture your attention? 

One word — trash. In most of the western world we have done an amazing job of seemingly making all of our garbage disappear, even though each year we produce more and more. Yet, we are also becoming more and more aware that it's not actually disappearing, rather being displaced or burned.  In too many cases it's harming other people, animals, plants, water sources, our air, etc. If we all try to reduce our use of single use plastics, conserve energy and water, and so forth, that's a great step on an individual level. But the reality is that unless we work to make large scale changes within every industry that produces these consumer goods that become garbage, the individual steps won't move the needle. I'm able to help to do that within the footwear industry with NFW’s materials.

How did you get interested in the footwear industry?

My favorite type of shoe is the pair that really makes you feel confident and ready to take on whatever is ahead. My love for shoes/sneakers began this way when I was around 5 years old and I got my first pair of “gym shoes.” It was explained to me that these shoes were better for running and playing sports — and as a kid this was something that I took very literally and those shoes became really special to me. From that point forward, every pair of shoes I owned had a purpose. And nothing was better than the feeling of walking out of that shoe store wearing my new shoes and feeling awesome.

What excites you the most about NFW? What is your favorite thing about NFW?

I believe NFW has found the solution for a problem that many companies or brands have been looking for when it comes to sustainability or a circular economy. For years and years the idea of using purely natural materials in footwear, accessories, automotive, and other fields has been largely avoided due to some of their perceived weaknesses. At NFW we have the technology to manipulate those weaknesses and really unlock the potential of natural materials.

Very often companies have “solutions” without a problem, but the NFW team has a solution for one of the biggest problems we are facing today. This inspired me to want to be a part of NFW, and I’m really excited to keep working on this together!

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Thanks for talking with us, Alan! It’s great to have you at NFW, and we’re looking forward to seeing what exciting things happen next.

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