‘It is an art that represents Hong Kong’: Angus Ko launches sustainable bamboo footwear ‘Bam-On’

Angus Ko

Angus Ko is the founder of the Hong Kong based ‘Erth Company’. He recently launched the business’ first product, a vegan-friendly and entirely recycled bamboo based footwear — the ‘Bam-On’.

Angus, what type of person do you think is most likely to look around at the discarded and waste materials surrounding them and think, “oh, there are ways I can refashion this?”

Angus: I think that people who are observant, creative, and environmentally conscious would be more likely to see the beauty in refashioning waste.

What about the environment you grew up in led you to look around and assess the overlooked materials at hand? Were you in a particularly urban area where waste was pronounced?

Angus: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, the city with the most skyscrapers in the world. Everyday, I see new high rises built using bamboo scaffolding. Bamboo scaffolding is a traditional building technique. It is an art that represents the Hong Kong culture.

Sadly, the flip side of development is pollution. Hong Kong uses over five million bamboo rods each year for construction. Due to safety reasons, most of these rods are disposed in landfills immediately after being used. This made me think of how I could make a change for the city.

Bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong | Ricardo Gomez Angel

Were there other disposed materials you tried playing around with prior to the bamboo? What makes the bamboo used in Hong Kong more desirable than other types in the world?

Angus: No, bamboo has always been the focus of our recycling effort. Again, it’s because bamboo is a waste that is so representative of the Hong Kong culture and we want to share it with the world.

The bamboo that is used as scaffolding in Hong Kong is highly durable, strong, quick drying, and supportive. These characteristics made them a great material for footwear and especially slip-ons. Bamboo is also lightweight and odorless, which adds great value in footwear. In addition, making shoes with bamboo instead of leather makes them 100% vegan, which means no animals are hurt

True, but the characteristics of durability, strength, and even supportiveness could be applied to a makeshift house as much as a shoe. Why focus on shoes specifically? Were you previously involved in shoe design or were you just disatisfied with the quality of footwear?

Angus: There has actually been a long history of making shoes from bamboo in a lot of Asian countries. What I am trying to do is to rebrand it and add a green element to it so that the world can appreciate it even more.

Bam-On | Erth Company

Why do you think previous projects involving bamboo shoes were slow to embrace and market the “green element?” What have you done in terms of updating Bam-On to improve on their failure?

Angus: I think that the traditional bamboo shoes lacked a fashionable touch to access a bigger consumer market. I believe the Bam-On is the first ever project to include a recycling or upcycling element in a product in this category. Also, as consumers are more and more conscious about the environment and what products are made of, the Bam-Ons are breaking into markets that the previous products were unable to reach.

Bam-On | Erth Company

If you’re not familiar with bamboo in its upcycled and recycled forms you could easily think that it would be a harder and uncomfortable material to wear. How have you been educating consumers and piercing the stereotypes of bamboo?

Angus: That’s very true. Educating consumers has been difficult for us. I have strong faith in [Bam-Ons] because I wear them every day and I’m really experiencing their benefits. However, just me spreading the word is definitely not enough. I believe when people start trying them on, they will like it and share it with their friends. That’s why I think the best consumer education for our product is experience and word of mouth.

Bam-Ons in their current design have a lot of similarities to espadrilles and other deck type shoes. Did using bamboo force you to pivot from earlier design concepts or was this mostly the intended look?

Angus: Actually, bamboo is very versatile and does not constrain our design in any way. We chose this design because it is unisex and easy to wear. You can basically wear them on any occasion. We believe [that] this way, we can reach the most people and create a bigger impact.

Bam-On | Erth Company

How did you go about securing funding for the initial prototypes and now, your first set of orders?

Angus: I invested my own savings into making the intial protypes so far. However, we need more capital to place the first set of orders in large quantities. That’s what our Kickstarter campaign is for.

Were you unable to pool your personal savings, how do you imagine you would have pulled this off? Was there any interest from outside funding looking to get in on eco-fashion?

Angus: To me, the ultimate goal of the Kickstarter campaign is testing the market and proving the concept. I did not want to seek outside funding when I had no track record or proof of concept. That’s why outside funding wasn’t really an option for me at the prototype stage. Luckily, I got a lot of help along the way from the manufacturer because they liked the idea and thought it was a cause worth supporting. They even made some of the prototypes for free.

Bam-On | Erth Company

That’s really fortunate. At what stage in this process did you decide it was time to form Erth Company? Do you feel you’re under even more pressure to perform because you have only one introductory product?

Angus: It was when I had to start engaging other parties such as suppliers and manufacturers. I felt like it was more professional and convincing engaging them as a company than as an individual. I would say I’m more motivated rather than pressured because I’m trying to create my own brand with my very first product.

What do you look for in people as you build out your team?

Angus: I look for creative minds who share the same vision in green fashion as myself and appreciate diversity, and different cultures.

Bam-On | Erth Company

If all goes to plan with the Bam-On, what other ideas are you hoping to pursue through Erth Company?

Angus: I plan to include at least one Erth element — in Bam-On’s case the recycled bamboo — in each of our future products to promote green fashion — maybe upcycling other waste materials [for] other fashion items.

Are you looking forward to moving on to other products or do you intend to savor this experience for as long as possible?

Angus: I will definitely keep fine tuning and creating next generations of the Bam-Ons while developing new lines of products.

Six Things to Know About Angus

A television show he suggests all designers watch: The Simpsons

An environmental advancement he thinks we won’t predict: fruit leather

A recent disastrous design he remembers: ZO2 by Big Baller Brand

On the most prevalent stereotype of asian startups: tech-y

His most useful website for entrepreneurs: Can’t think of any. But if you want to learn entrepreneurship, watch Shark Tank.

His best money saving tip for operating a startup: Work and learn harder so you can hire less people.

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‘Erth Company’ website | FB Page

Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity