Forging a new path in footwear
It was a straight flush at this year’s BC Business 30 Under 30 Awards with four UBC Sauder alumni and one staff member making the list of B.C.’s most enterprising young business leaders. In this summer series, we interview one winner each week and find out what entrepreneurship means to them.
Braden Parker, 28, always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Growing up in the Silicon Valley and then returning to his roots in Vancouver, he specifically chose UBC Sauder for his Bachelor of Commerce degree because it offered an entrepreneurship focus. When he graduated in 2013, he didn’t have a clear plan in mind for the kind of company he wanted to start, but the drive to experiment and work for himself was firmly imprinted.
After working for Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, Braden learned first-hand about the challenges and opportunities to building a lasting consumer brand. At the time, Braden was an active, young professional who could go from a morning hike, to the office, to meetups with friends on the same day. The idea for his business venture resulted first in his need as a consumer: the search for versatility and style.
Along with his friend and now Co-Founder, Kevin Reid, the spark was ignited: it was time to create a shoe that combined the comfort of a runner and the grip of a boot with classic good looks. The revelation proved to be the first step in the formation of their company, “Casca Footwear.”
“We wanted shoes that we could wear all day and night. Shoes that looked good, felt good and were made with sustainability in mind. A tall order, yes. Impossible to make? We didn’t think so.”
A vision of durable shoes with a light footprint
Parker and Reid, who was an industrial designer with experience at Native Shoes and Livestock, set off on a quest to bring this idea to life – creating a shoe that was well designed, made responsibly and built to last was a top priority. The two embarked on a trip to China to get their design tested and made.
Casca co-founder Kevin Reid with CEO Braden Parker.
“We learned that most of the industrial waste from shoes comes from the manufacturing process and the spinoff emissions it creates,” Parker notes. “We were determined to make a shoe that was environmentally responsible and could last longer.”
Parker also went to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco to present his idea to investors. “I slept on a lot of couches for a while. It was part of my fundraising process.” Eventually, he managed to secure more than $4 million in capital.
Casca then sourced suppliers and sub suppliers who shared a passion for quality, design, and responsible manufacturing. They ensured the leather used for the shoes was LWG gold certified, with hide byproduct from the food industry. For their knit shoe, the duo located a special knitting machine that knits the fabric in one piece, with no leftover material. Customers can also order custom insoles, made using Casca’s cutting-edge 3D scanning & printing technology. The insoles are all recyclable and customers can return them so they can be ground down and used for another purpose.
Casca’s unique 3-D print tool for customized shoes
“Ultimately, it’s about reducing consumption. We took a step back and looked at what technology and the future would enable. We knew 3D-printing allowed for customization, and we believe in a future where the footwear industry is decentralized, custom and on-demand. The average person buys seven pairs of shoes per year. We want to inspire people to be conscious consumers, to buy quality over quantity, and ultimately buy fewer shoes. We’re proud of the fact that our shoes come with a five-year guarantee” says Parker.
Casca officially launched in December 2019 both online and with a flagship store in Vancouver.
A recent photo shoot that puts Casca Shoes casually on display
Starting up and staying in Vancouver
“Being an entrepreneur in this city is really advantageous,” explains Parker. “We’re on the same time zone as California, we’re close to Asia and we have an incredible talent pool here. It’s a very supportive space for startups.”
As a 30 under 30 BC Business award winner, Parker says his time at UBC Sauder was pivotal to his success. “The skills I learned in New Venture Design from Paul Cubbon and Darren Dahl have been foundational for me. Experimenting and testing out business hypotheses has always been a part of my approach. I don’t think I could have achieved all of this at the pace I did without my education.”
How has Parker navigated his business through COVID-19? “We were fortunate to have been agile from the start. Our product was initially only available online and that’s still how we get the majority of our sales. When COVID hit, we were already shipping shoes for free across North America. We have since added virtual shopping through Zoom and we created an app for customers to download and scan their feet for an accurate shoe size. These are some of the ways we’ve been able to innovate and weather our company through this uncertainty.” What is Parker’s advice to other young entrepreneurs? “Don’t be afraid to start. Don’t overthink things. Just get going and see where your idea takes you.”