With 20 BILLION New Shoes a Year, Meet MIRET’s 97% Natural Eco Sneakers Collection

Total Croatia News

November 28, 2020 – With more than 20 billion shoes produced a year, the footwear industry is having a considerable negative impact on the environment. Two Croatian brothers offer a much more natural and sustainable solution – meet the 97% natural MIRET Forest Dark range of eco sneakers.  

Earlier this year, I was invited to give a TEDX talk in Koprivnica. Among the other speakers were two brothers who I had been planning to catch up with for some time, ever since I had heard them pitch their revolutionary eco-shoe business at a Croatian startup pitch at a diaspora conference last year.  

Croatian speakers can listen to the TEDX presentation of MIRET sneakers by Hrvoje and Domagoj Boljar, a fascinating look – and enterprising solution – at an environmental problem that has been largely overlooked. Shoes. 

Did you know that an astonishing 20 BILLION shoes were produced in 2019? Most are meant to last for a long time. Given that most of the products – oil derivatives, plastic, leather – are hardly biodegradable or good for the environment, the problem is significant. Estimate how many pairs of shoes you have used so far in your life, and there is your ‘shoe footprint.’


It is an issue that particularly bothered the younger brother, Hrvoje Boljar, his older brother explained to me. Hrvoje (left, in the photo above) had been working with his brother in the shoe industry for a number of years after inheriting a shoe factory in financial trouble from their father. The family firm was making luxury shoes for some of the world’s best names in shoes, and the Boljars were making ends meet with the business. 

“But we are making garbage,” said Hrvoje one day to his brother. “Look at the materials that go into shoes. We need to change this, to come up with something less harmful to the environment.” And so began a mission – to create a sneaker that was still fashionable, comfortable and long-lasting, but also one which had minimum impact on the environment. 

And so began a journey – a journey which is very much ongoing – to produce a shoe from 100% natural products. As this had never been done before (the Boljars believe they are the first in the world to come out with eco sneakers (the first product dates back to 2016). With no precedent to fall back on, their research to refer to, the brothers took to the road to find natural solutions to some of the core ingredients of sneakers, in order to produce a revolutionary eco version. 

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I caught up with Domagoj in Cakovec yesterday, keen to learn more not only about the new MIRET Forest Dark range of eco sneakers, which are made from 97% natural products, but also about the process, plans and company philosophy. 

I made sure I was wearing my burgundy MIRET sneakers to show solidarity. VERY comfortable. 

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And so began an education in shoes, which are far more complex things than they appear at first sight. Did I know, for example, that a typical shoe has between 14 and 20 different components, all of which are harmful for the environment? The MIRET plan was to find natural alternatives for as many of these components (ideally all) as possible, and to experiment with them in producing more environmentally-friendly sneakers.

It was a journey completely into the unknown, as this had never been done before. Some experiments worked, others didn’t, and there were many other considerations to think about on the road to responsible and sustainable footwear. A fully biodegradable shoe might sound ideal, but it if was to last only a short time and take a lot of resources in production, then that was not the solution. By contrast, shoes currently do last a long time and are as such sustainable on one level. The sweet spot would be somewhere in between – finding natural products with longevity.  

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And what stunning success the Boljar brothers have managed so far, replacing most of the 14 essential materials with natural alternatives. Their first big discovery was hemp, and this is now used in all shoes along with cotton, rubber, eucalyptus, cork, corn, wood cellulose, kenaf, flax, corn, New Zealand wool, and jute. 

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In all, this amounts to 97% of the shoes in the new Dark Forest collection. This has been achieved with no compromise on comfort, style or long-lasting life.  


For a breakdown in how these materials fit into a standard MIRET sneaker, check out the photo above.  

The journey has been challenging, and while everything is pointing in the right direction, things are not going as quickly as Domagoj would like.  

“Our dream was largely sidelined for some time, as the realities of needing to make a living meant that we could only devote 2-5% of our time to what we loved. Added to that the fact that Croatia is a much harder place to get noticed by investors. I read an article recently about how Croatian companies have found a different model to Silicon Valley. Businesses such as Rimac and Infobip have built up strong businesses and revenue streams and then attracted attention. Actually, they have succeeded in spite of everything, not because of it. With more support and investment, how many more Croatian success stories could we be talking about?”

Rimac came up in one of my questions during the interview, but for a very different reason. The brothers are diversifying from being a sustainable shoe company into a green tech company. Their green tech plans are to share their expertise with other companies, both within and outside the textile industry. They plan to be better known for their know-how, with multiple applications in other industries, while keeping the MIRET shoe brand as a case study and showcase of excellence. 

“A little like Rimac, who has the amazing cars as the showcase, but all the tech and battery stuff as the engine,” I concluded aloud to myself. 

“Yes, exactly. And the time for this is now. The landscape is definitely in our favour, with more people looking for greener products. If we were in the States, we could attract major investments, expand and bring down the production prices of the materials, thereby making the products more affordable for all.” 

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Whether it wants to or not, the shoe industry is following the trend. Everyone is now talking about sustainability, and while not everyone is sincere about this, the customer is king and is driving it. 

And if the customer is looking for a fashionable, natural and sustainable option, the new MIRET Forest Dark eco sneakers, 97% natural goodness, are enticing indeed. And Domagoj was clearly excited to talk about the new range. 

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Domagoj explained that this is the first collection that they have actually designed – previous ones have been the result of technical demands. The challenge was to preserve their authenticity while trying to convey their key messages of preserving nature, highlighting biodiversity, and minimising the negative impact on the environment. In order to bring that message home, as well as adding a dash of colour, the new collection celebrates five animals at risk of extinction – the green peafowl, the Nicobar pigeon, the Sumatran orangutan, Parson’s chameleon, and the snow leopard. 

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A really interesting way to spend an afternoon in Cakovec, and we could certainly have talked for hours had busy schedules not intervened. This is one of the things I love most about my ‘job’ in Croatia. There are so many fascinating stories to be told, so many enterprising people and ideas, several of which (like this story) should reach a more global market.  

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The Boljar brothers have made an impressive start but are yet to crack the global market. After an hour in Domagoj’s inspiring company, I predict that this is only a matter of time, especially given the global trend for more sustainable solutions.  

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In the meantime, I am sure that they will be scouring the globe for solutions to that elusive 3% to make a show from 100% natural products. It is only a matter of time. 

Learn more about the amazing MIRET project, and if you are an investor with a vision, I am sure the brothers would love to hear from you. You can visit the official website here


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