Good quality, eco-friendly and price-conscious are qualities often cited by kids’ brands. To find a label that truly hits all of these points, not just in the mission statement under ‘company ethos’, is perhaps harder to come by. But Portuguese footwear supplier Arauto RAP (AKA RAP) is one such brand. Rebecca Jackson visited the offices in Porto, Portugal, to find out more.
Family-run company Arauto RAP – more commonly known as RAP – is now managed by sixth-generation brother and sister team and directors Pedro and Maria Tavares. A company that spans over 55 years in the industry, RAP is now present in a fair portion of European countries, as well as USA and Canada, though a small amount of orders go to Asia, too.
Over the coming months, the brand is planning to target a few new territories, Russia being one. Expansion is on the cards, but it’s not about the hard and fast approach. “It’s not about every business, it’s about the right business,” confirms Pedro Tavares, director of RAP. However, the main connection, and strongest established market is Scandinavia, especially Denmark.
“There was a bit of dispute as to whether RAP would go to Denmark originally,” says Tavares. “But my father took some samples over anyway and came back with a lot of orders. It was a gamble, but it worked. He proved everyone wrong.” Furthermore, ‘Rap’ is an onomatopoeia for a duck’s ‘quack’ in Danish. Inspired by the venture into Denmark, the brand’s connection with Scandinavia was complete. And today, RAP’s bestselling styles overall are sandals that are recommended by hospitals and physiotherapists in Scandinavia.
For Tavares, the brand’s recent venture into the UK market was less sporadic than his father’s into Denmark, though the same tenacity was applied. It’s this confidence that has seen the brand enter with such force into the UK. Though only in its first full UK selling season, the brand has 36 accounts with an aim of 50 in the immediate future.
“You’re not a brand until you’re placed all around the country,” Tavares says. “It’s great to be in London, but we want to be all around the UK. At the moment we reach a good demographic, and have customers around the country from Scotland to Wales and the West Country.” Tenacity, it seems, pays off. Though for Tavares, expansion is not just about domination over the market and sales.
“We want to continue to produce healthy shoes for kids and mums. Yes, we want to grow, but for us it’s about the right kind of growth. Essentially, we always look to our roots and what we stand for when developing a new range of shoes.”
The imagery of a duck’s foot is seen throughout branding, represented in the brand’s own shoe shape: wider at the toe and narrow at the heel, just like a duck’s. “Children aren’t usually born with misshapen feet, yet only approximately 40 per cent of adults have healthy feet,” Tavares says. “It’s important to look after feet, allowing them natural space to form properly, and to use flexible materials that also provide support in the right areas.”
Catering to four different age groups from pre-walker to teens, the brand takes a considered approach when selecting which materials to use in its different ranges. Despite selling almost nothing in Porto and very little in Portugal in general, materials are sourced from suppliers based locally to the factory. Ecological vegetable leathers are selected to ensure zero chromium. Latex, raw rubber and crepe soles – the most organic available at the moment – feature across the line. And the brand’s own waterproof, windproof and breathable RAP-TEX membrane boasts a non-porous texture which prevents air penetration and draws vapour to the outside of the shoe.
Shoes across the line include a layer of ‘memory foam’. Latex is used as an alternative to foam as it boasts comfort and breathability while also being naturally more beneficial to the environment. “Latex is better for allergies and maintains more anti-bacterial properties. Our buckles, too, are nickel-free and leather is chromium free. Though you have to ensure you select the right suppliers, who use the right tannery,” says Tavares. “You have to look right down the line of production to ensure you’re getting what you want.” It’s a longer way of doing things; it’s a harder way of doing things.
Likewise, RAP is one of the few brands to use only water-based glue and water-based inks in its manufacturing process. It makes breathing the air at the brand’s factory based in São João da Madeira, a city outside of Porto, a breeze.
The team has been based within its current premises since 1959 – way back when the business was started in its current form by third generation family members.
It’s a fairly unimpressive building from the outside, like any other. Inside is a different story.
Starting where most things start – the drawing board – each part of the design and manufacturing process (the pieces of the puzzle, as Tavares puts it) is done in-house and is seen as just as important as the next. Each is split into an individual area of craft, with specialist craftspeople designated to each area. Every shoe passes through a minimum of 30 separate sets of hands before it’s able to be released from production.
Pieces of material are cut by hand, using a water jet cutting machine; leather is stitched together, soles are cut and then fixed together using water-based glue. Materials react with friction in the manufacturing process, creating an effective natural adhesive. A mix of extreme hot and cold temperatures are applied during the process to create the desired shape, replicating that all-important duck foot silhouette.
It seems so simple, though each part of the process is carefully considered. And if a product’s not quite right, it’s worked out until it’s ready. Tavares is able to oversee all elements of production at the factory, making it easier to control. It puts the brand at something of an advantage.
RAP comes out around 15-20 per cent cheaper than its direct competitors, enabling it to hold an attractive price point advantage. As one of the only kids’ shoe brands to oversee and manage all stages of production, it’s easier to cater and react to orders. It’s also easier to monitor high production standards.
All of the brand’s suppliers meet the minimum REACH criteria, the European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of CHemicals. “We produce our own shoes; we have the factory and we have the brand,” Tavares says. “Our competitors could be using more expensive materials, though I think we’re able to keep costs down because we have a lighter structure in place.”
Certainly, the brand doesn’t rush major decisions. It took one and a half years of searching to find the right suppliers to make a box for the new collection that was not only recyclable but was made out of recycled materials. Every element of the box, including papers, glues and even the labels that are attached, is 100 per cent made from recycled materials. Furthermore, it took two years to develop the brand’s first fully vegan kids’ shoe for s/s 17.
“The majority of vegan shoes are not ecological; they contain petroleum and materials which are bad for the environment. Our vegan shoe took a while to make because we wanted a shoe that was both ecological and not made from an animal,” says Tavares. “It takes a lot of work to ensure you can trust the materials and the suppliers that you’re using. There’s lots of vegan shoes that are made quickly and pushed out to the market in no time.”
The range of vegan shoes and sandals reflect a cork upper and a natural raw rubber sole. With an organic cotton and soft foam lining, styles benefit from the natural durable and breathable properties of cork. Produced without using any harmful chemicals, the style is RAP’s first PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) approved shoe. At the time of visiting, Tavares and his team are testing a crepe sole option, with the aim of furthering the cork shoe’s eco-friendly status.
Accompanying the vegan cork shoe, the rest of the s/s 17 collection includes more colourways, with a particular focus on patterns such as florals, brights and metallic shades. Mary Jane and sandal styles remain bestsellers for the UK summer collection. Sandals with adjustable features are top sellers across the board, continuing as the staple requirement.
With the edition of the cork vegan shoe, the latest collection feels like a defining one. The brand has always been committed to eco practices, though the recent increasing customer demand and industry support for such a product indicates that the move into certified vegan territory is a good venture into a previously niche market. The jury is out for the vegan cork style, though the mood is confident in the RAP camp.