Emmanuel Eribo is on a mission to save the world
Meet the businessman and founder who’s disrupting the fashion system and saving the planet…
Tuesday 11 October 2022 By Becky Burgum Photography by Tobi Sobowale Grooming by Rita Osei-Kusi
‘The world doesn’t need more shoes.’ It’s an unusual mantra for a footwear business, but Emmanuel Eribo likes to do things differently. Recognised as the recipient of the Soho House Award for Breakthrough Entrepreneur, Eribo’s vegan shoe brand LØCI, of which he is the founder and CEO, is about more than just being animal-free. Launched with longtime business partners and close friends Philippe Homsy, Mark Quaradeghini and his brother Frank, it turns the traditional (highly wasteful) production process on its head by scrapping seasons and producing according to demand. ‘It’s not that we don’t want to sell shoes,’ Eribo, 39, tells me over a ginger beer on a super-sunny day at Shoreditch House, naturally. ‘We absolutely do, but to people who want them. We don’t want to do more damage to the planet than we need to.’
After witnessing the amount of waste created in his previous shoe venture, Butterfly Twists, this isn’t all talk. Sustainable practices are the foundation of LØCI’s mission, from
using recycled plastics and vegan materials to bringing shoemaking back to Europe. And it’s not without sacrifice. It’d be far easier (and around 30 to 40% cheaper) for the trainers to be made in China, yet all LØCI designs are sourced and manufactured in Portugal to reduce the carbon footprint. Every pair saves 20 plastic bottles from entering our oceans and landfills, thanks to 10% of profits going to sea life charities – that’s 982,280 less bottles and 72,230 turtles saved to date.
‘It’s always been about more than footwear,’ continues Eribo. ‘We’re trying to build a lifestyle. We want wearing a pair of LØCIs to signify the kind of person you are, in a positive way.’ Clearly, it’s working. Since launching in May last year, LØCI is now distributed in 26 countries, stocked in major UK, US and Middle East retailers (including Browns Fashion) and has had the seal of approval by Hollywood A-listers such as Will Smith and Olivia Wilde.
And it all started in Soho House. ‘We sat at the same table in White City, from 8am to 10pm every day for months until the team – and the coffee tab – grew so much we needed to move to Soho Works,’ says Eribo. He enlisted help from willing front of house staff as shoe testers and estimates that the company has done business with around 20 of their regular coworkers. ‘There’s an incredible energy in being surrounded by start-ups all working to revolutionise their own industries,’ he continues. ‘Soho Works feels like you’re in a micro economy seeing where the world is going.’ For Eribo, this community spirit is what makes it even more special that LØCI is now the official supplier of Soho House footwear.
When Eribo talks about start-ups and innovation, his ambition and passion is palpable. He traces it back to his childhood in Kensal Rise, north London. Although his parents were doctors in Nigeria, ‘they came to this country with nothing’ yet ended up running a series of successful family businesses. At school, Eribo wasn’t the high achiever you might expect: ‘I never paid much attention and wasn’t top of the class, I was always the joker.’ He got by on his exceptional memory, but never went above and beyond – a far cry to how he operates today. ‘As one of three Black kids in a year of 60, I learnt how to harness standing out into something powerful with my personality,’ he says. This is what he, so humbly, attributes to his early success and unprecedented rise in the finance world.
After studying psychology at the University of Bath and a year working in HR, he took a job in banking. Within three months, he got a promotion to the front office that most people wait about five years for. ‘Sometimes being good to be around trumps being smart,’ he says – but, of course, Eribo is both. That’s not to say he hasn’t had his fair share of failures. He left banking in pursuit of happiness after eight years and became a serial entrepreneur: ‘People only remember the wins, but we’ve invested in so many businesses,’ he says. ‘Anyone that has been successful has a trail of failures.’ His prime example is LØCI’s bestselling shoe. ‘It’s called the Nine because we failed eight times making it.’
As for the future, Eribo sees LØCI expanding into clothing and, although he feels cast as the ‘shoe guy’, he has huge ambitions in the tech and energy spaces, too. Eribo thrives on being an outsider: ‘We were able to do things other people couldn’t with LØCI, because we had a different mindset.’ He’s invested in 12 other companies and counting, most recently an ‘incredibly exciting’ female sanitation business he discovered through his mentoring, which takes up a great deal of his spare time. ‘Apart from helping people who are disadvantaged or on the cusp of something great, mentoring makes me smarter,’ says Eribo. ‘It helps me understand the world I’m not paying attention to.’ There really is no rest for his ambitions.