With a few sneakerheads amongst the YUGEN team, we have been looking to add a sneaker brand to our community for some time. However, in an industry segment plagued by a lack of product differentiation and unsustainable sales cycles, it has been hard to find brands which fit within our ethos and aesthetic. When we came across Igwe and its founder Samuel Baruch, we instantly knew this was the brand we were looking for. We admire Samuel’s creative direction and strong values, and are thrilled to share his brand and story with you all.
Born in France, Samuel did not have an immediate start into the sneaker industry. After graduating with an MA in Industrial Design, Samuel spent time designing for several Parisian brands and agencies before taking the decision to pursue a calling in sneaker design in 2015. His passion for sneakers was evident well before then, with one of his final works at university being a creative studio of concept shoes and designs - perhaps a first glimpse into was to come with Igwe.
First joining Puma’s lifestyle department, a small three person team, Samuel was involved in some of the brand’s most highly desired collaborations (including Fenty / Rihanna and Alexander McQueen), learning along the way the value of a strong creative vision and a self-defining message. Wishing to explore this path even further, Samuel joined Veja’s design team in 2017, initially attracted by the brand’s simple and exceptionally clean aesthetic but quickly discovered a newfound admiration for their pioneering efforts in sustainable practice as time passed.
Officially launched in October 2018, Igwe was born as an experimental and sustainable sneaker studio driven by Samuel’s passionate desire for unrestrained creative freedom. Designs are skilfully juxtaposing; subtly minimalist in appearance but with a technically complex backdrop of deconstructed pieces - often taking up to 100 pieces to make - as opposed to the industry standard of 30. Of pure defined lines and well-structured, almost architectural proportions, Igwe sneakers are only produced after careful design processes and studied adjustments of cuts, seams, and stitching. The result is as visually stunning as it is long-lasting (you can expect these sneakers to last the test of time), expressing a modern vision in tune with 21st century realities.
Thus, it is only natural that Samuel’s inspirations would be as conceptual and convergent as his creative vision. Driven by a natural desire to explore the depths of the ever-changing world around us, Samuel’s vision is guided by the manifest of clear-cut graphics in his everyday life. Industrial 2D forms, urban architecture, Samuel enjoys transforming shapes into new avant-garde design concepts. Similar to us at YUGEN, Samuel is also inspired by Japanese and Korean designs and their characteristic, refined minimalism. Sustainability and circular production continue to drive Samuel’s message close to home.
Exclusively handcrafted in a small, family run factory in Portugal, Igwe emphasises the quality of its production. Each pair is only produced with responsibly sourced European materials using 100% recycled PET plastic bottles for the laces and eco-friendly, chrome-free tanned leather to achieve full circularity. All of the footwear in the ‘Specimen’ collection for example, is 100% recyclable and clients are encouraged to bring back their old pair to be recycled by the brand’s stockists. Yet for all of its achievements in sustainable terms, it isn’t an aspect that Igwe wishes to brag about openly, believing responsible practice to be an essential part of a business, and not a differentiating factor. For Igwe, sustainability is both the fundamental groundwork and the element of surprise at the end of the journey. The brand name itself is a subtle note in this direction - Innovation Goes With Environment.
Very much in line with the rest of his creative direction, Samuel sees a diverse future for Igwe. Unlike other sneaker brands, Samuel wants Igwe to only release 1-2 new models each year. He also sees a future where there may be a second line of purely conceptual pieces which push the boundaries of design and manufacturing capabilities. Samuel also has a preference for Igwe to remain a niche independent brand (rather than a mass-market behemoth); reaching new customers and growing internationally, but at an organic pace without losing itself in the commercial mainstream discourse.
However you look at it, we think Igwe is a pioneer in the sneaker game, and exactly what the industry needs. We love the clean lines, sharp aesthetics and underlying message of innovation and sustainability. They are the perfect shoes for anyone who wants to be different and stand out from the crowd, for those of us who celebrate design first and believe looking cool and caring about the environment should not be at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Written by Carlota Pano