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Sustainable leather contest

A challenge between young designers in the spirit of sustainable leather

A project by:

We have a winner!

The winner is Hommy Diaz.
The young American designer, with his "Home Base" sneaker, won the contest.

Guided by the expertise of the Arsutoria School in Milan, these young promising international design talents presented their final prototypes in May to a jury of experts made up by Alessandro Vigano (Designer & Fashion consultant), Marc Smit (Owner Smit & Zoon), Mart Visser (Couturier), Guisi Ferré (Journalist), Angelo Lanza (Art Director AF Magazine) and Federico Poletti (Marketing Communications Director WHITE Milano), who deliberated the entries on five elements: design, innovation, storytelling, functionality and of course sustainability.

Hommy will have the opportunity to showcase his ‘Home Base’ collection of sneakers at the WHITE Milano fair, during the Milan Fashion Week in September 2021. That’s not all: as the winner of the Design Challenge, he received the extremely rare opportunity to video call with Queen Máxima Zorreguieta from the Netherlands during her visit to Smit & Zoon on May 26, in honour of the company’s 200-year anniversary.

Smit & Zoon, leader in chemical products for the leather industry, reinforces its best business practices through sustainability, a value that is also the focus of the “Sustainable Leather Contest”.

Leather makes the difference. A by-product of the meat industry, it is recovered, enhanced, and ennobled through tanning so the creativity of designers and stylists can take flight. Used in the fashion, upholstery, and automotive industries, leather with its beauty and special features is capable of inspiring and inciting emotion in the end customer. Since this material is genuinely capable of making all the difference, it is necessary for the leather value chain to be both socially and ecologically sustainable.


The contest, which was kicked off in June by selecting the five best Arsutoria alumni, will include a number of different phases:

September 2020

presentation of the contest’s finalists and launch
of the final project’s brief

January 2021

reveal of the finalists' projects

May 2021

in conjunction with the celebrations surrounding Smit & Zoon’s 200th anniversary, the prototypes developed in collaboration with Arsutoria School will be presented and the winner of the contest will be announced

Design Projects

Enjoy the chosen finalists’s projects


Alexandros Vasdekis​

Modular, timeless, seasonless but also contemporary: each model can be worn in various ways and be renewed with different elements, making them genuinely personalised and sustainable. Like the name says, which is pronounced REDUCE: RE is the prefix that means something that can be used continuously, combined with the letters DUWS, forming the words RE-D (defined, designed, done, discovered), RE-U (used, updated, united), RE-W (worn, wished), and RE-S (shared, shaped, selected, shuffled).

Modern Movers

Guglielmo Gorno

A global world where we are all connected with one another. Where the “Modern Movers” in constant evolution must take better care of the environment than the older generations. This collection is dedicated to them, with the aim of laying the foundations for a more sustainable future, while taking inspiration from the relationship between man and nature, and mixing tradition and innovation.

Home Base

Hommy Diaz

The stigma associated with working from home prior to Covid-19 has disappeared: “an incredible 42% of the U.S. labour force now works from home fulltime. – confirms Professor Nicholas Bloom from the Stanford Institute of Economic Politic Research – About another 33% are not working – a testament to the savage impact of the lockdown - and the remaining 26% – mostly essential service workers – are working on their business premises”. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work: and this is the inspiration of the collection.


Javier A. Mogollón

The cowboys of Maremma, the ‘Butteri’, who have always used the skins of the cattle they raise to produce their boots, saddles, and many other accessories, inspire the project of the collection that re-thinks, re-sets and re-values the product from the heart, from the traditional way of living of the Butteri, up to the sustainable sourcing and shoe fabrication. Reducing the distance between raw material, process and manufacture, minimising the environmental impact from the sustainable leather to the supply chain. 


Laure Wolff

Durable, sensible, inclusive, adapted. Iconic footwear styles from all over the world can endlessly be reshaped to suit contemporary reality, desires and concerns. Leather is the most sensible choice of material for footwear for its adaptability and durability. The styles are suited to both men and women, including cross generations. The finishes are inspired to reconsider segments between classic and fashion. The stitches convey a return to craft and a link between our heritage and what we are today.

Finalists profiles

Meet the students who made it to the grand finals of the Smit & Zoon contest.

Alexandros Vasdekis​


He is a Greek footwear designer with a deep love for shoes and a passion for nature. After graduating with a biology degree where he mainly focused on the concept of sustainability, he decided to pursue his life-long dream of becoming a footwear designer. He attended the prestigious London College of Fashion and Arsutoria School, where he acquired designing and technical skills, which he then honed through his work experience as a footwear designer in Italy, London and Athens. He was selected by Arsutoria to showcase a footwear collection on the runway at Fashion Graduate Italia, he was a footwear designer finalist at an international contest in Portugal and was also a winner of the Sophia Webster design competition. Biology remains his biggest source of inspiration, and through his designs he creates stories and raises awareness about environmental issues and unknown aspects of biology.

Guglielmo Gorno


He comes from a small town near Milan, in Italy. Guglielmo is a junior footwear designer at Ermenegildo Zegna and he previously worked for Puma. His passion for footwear design comes from his love for sneakers. He is a sneaker head since he was a kid. Some years ago he decided to make Shoes his career, and to turn his passion into his job. The first step in doing so was to study at Arsutoria School that gave him everything needed to start out in this field. After that experience he has been selected for two Pensole Footwear Design Academy scholarships that gave him the opportunity to study footwear design while traveling around the world. He is very passionate about his job and his goal is to make an impact in the industry creating meaningful products

Hommy Diaz


As a son of immigrant parents growing up in Queens, New York (80’s – 90’s) counterfeit clothing and footwear was available on every other corner across all 5 boroughs. The deception of shopping at retail fueled him as a young teenager to be creative and one day produce authentic and honest products. The past 12 years in the footwear industry having worked for DC Shoes, Palladium Boots and K-SWISS has provided him with the experience of visiting over 40 major cities around the world for footwear market research and over 20 mass production factories related to footwear in 5 different countries. He came full circle from his early desires as a teenager to find the resources to design and produce unique products of his own vs knocking off an established brand to turn a profit. To shine a positive light on the luxury of being a “Product Of An Immigrant”, he kept his promise and have leveraged his knowledge and network to design, develop and launch a head to toe brand called MAGNUS ALPHA.

Javier A. Mogollón


He grew up in Barcelona, the city where he also had his studies in product design and his first approach to a sports design job. Today, he is working as a freelance designer setting up personal projects from a sustainable and innovative perspective in the footwear and the equipment business. Back on time, he started as a tent and awning designer for caravan and motorhome industry. At this time, he had the chance to work with technical fabrics and sewing processes at an industrial scale. In 2016 he moved to Portugal, joining a Portuguese producer of mountain sports equipment as an equipment designer specialized in commuting bags and outdoor sports backpacks. In 2019, he took part in the exceptional sneaker course at Arsutoria School, where he extended his knowledge in the footwear industry, addressing his professional skills to what he is doing today.

Laure Wolff


Laure is a footwear designer familiar with the complete product life cycle from creation to commercialization. With an artistic venture starting in the music field, she was gradually lead to fashion through the door of luxury footwear, first in retail & wholesale and further on in brand development and creative direction. Her career soon evolved towards design finding the path of her creative roots. She studied footwear design, pattern making and prototyping, first at Central Saint Martins and LCF and later on at Arsutoria in Milan. Passionate about design, craft and self-expression, she finds her inspiration in the fields of art, architecture and in the observation of contemporary lifestyle. She today accompanies brands in all the steps of footwear creation with a strong focus on sustainability both in materials and processes, seeking to reconcile the beautiful and the good.

The judging panel

What is sustainable leather

Leather is one of man’s earliest and most useful discoveries. Our ancestors used leather to protect themselves from the elements. Primitive men hunted wild animals for food, then made clothing, footwear, and crude tents from the hides. 
Like then, hides used today are a by-product.


From the awareness about the importance of a responsible leather industry around the world, Smit & Zoon wants to stress the need for sustainable alternatives in the entire leather value chain. Nera, one of its subsidiaries, is introducing Zeology, a zeolite-based leather tanning concept. Tanning without the use of chrome, heavy-metal, and GDA: truly sustainable, without compromising on leather performance. By using Zeology, we can protect the Earth, and still be able to create and use top quality leather for the manufacturing of premium leather goods.

Uniqueness of sustainable tanned leather

What makes Zeology unique, compared to both traditional tanning agents and other existing sustainable alternatives, is that it delivers both sustainability benefits and superior leather performance. Zeo White, the Zeology-tanned leather intermediate, is unsurpassed in characteristics such as grain tightness, physical leather properties, lightfastness, and heat-resistance. In addition, its bright white color enables white leather and lighter and brighter colors than were ever possible before.
It’s perfect for the high-end fashion industry.



This is the ‘mission’ of Smit & Zoon, leader in chemical products for the leather industry, which in 2021 will arrive at the milestone of 200 years of successful business and innovation. Since 1821, the year in which Capitan Albert Smit founded the company, seven generations of entrepreneurs have shaped Smit & Zoon into the company it is today: an international reality with branches in different countries – including Germany, Brazil, India, and China – along with a branch in Tuscany, thanks to the acquisition of Codyeco. Over time, the company has stood out for its increasingly strong vocation for product innovation and its commitment to making the leather value chain more sustainable.


It is exactly for its commitment to sustainability that Smit & Zoon has adopted four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as its guidelines. Standing out in particular for their impact on the leather industry are those concerning clean water and sanitation (SDG6) and those regarding decent work and responsible economic growth (SDG8). Smit & Zoon is also among the founding partners of the Tannery of the Future Foundation, which helps tanneries to rate their own level of sustainability and understand how to develop their very own environmental profile.


Smit & Zoon’s commitment to sustainability is also renewed in its educational activities with a contest aimed at encouraging young creative talents to conceive a collection in which sustainable leathers are the protagonists.
Smit & Zoon’s chosen partner in this initiative is the Arsutoria School, an internationally recognised institute for design and technical training in the field of shoes.
The contest will see five youths, selected from among the best former students of Arsutoria School, compete with one another in the creation of a capsule collection made up by six footwear models featuring sustainable leathers and Smit & Zoon chemical product treatments. Two prototypes per finalist will then subsequently be selected and developed. The works presented must be aimed at the high-end range of the fashion industry, with emphasis placed on the value of sustainable leathers, through a design that considers the innate values present in every sustainable product: a timeless product capable of ageing without losing any of its appeal, while creatively renewing the “evergreen” standards of footwear.
Flanking these young creative talents will be the mentorship of designer Alessandro Viganò, who has a number of important past collaborations in his portfolio including Moma Design, AC BC, Premiata, Vist, Re/done, Gianvito Rossi, Golden Goose, Ducati Motor Holding, VF Corporation, Jacob Cohen, Alpinestars and Adidas.

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