I was impressed by the branding for Camper shoes well before I first bought a pair. This must have been around 20 years ago, back when Guillem Ferrer was director of design for the brand.
What struck me most at the time was the way in which Camper’s marketing drew on the brand’s Mallorca-ness and combined this with an ecologically-oriented approach, promoting the idea of ‘The Walking Society’. It was the first time I’d seen any brand on the island tap into the idea of Mallorca-ness. (Apart, of course, from Majorica pearls.) Camper was probably also one of the first ecologically aware brands in Spain, but it wasn’t boring and hippy. It was weirdly cool.
I’d always wanted to hear the real story behind Camper shoes and its quietly revolutionary marketing. So, when I found out that friend of The Olive Press Christer Söderberg knew Guillem, I asked if he could arrange an interview.
We met at La Molienda on Carrer del Bisbe Campins, behind Misericordia and up from Jaime III. I’d thoroughly recommend La Molienda, a friendly, bright and airy café that does delicious breakfasts made with local, seasonal and organically certified ingredients.
Before we get into my interview with Guillem, let me give you some background on Camper.
The Camper story
Camper was founded by Guillem’s friend Llorenç Fluxa in 1975. Llorenç was born into a shoemaking family in Inca, Mallorca’s shoemaking centre. He used his knowledge of traditional craftsmanship to create a new Mallorquin shoe brand.
It didn’t take Camper long to become market leaders in Spain but the brand still didn’t have its own distinct identity. Llorenç wanted to break out of the Spanish market and needed to find a way to do it.
In 1980, he invited his friend Guillem to join the company.
I have to say that the first thing that struck me about Guillem was the incredible vintage Camper shoes he was wearing. Weirdly cool indeed. I remembered seeing them for the first time on a trip to Mallorca, back when I lived in the UK. At the time, I thought they were amazing but couldn’t quite see myself schlepping through the grime and drizzle of London to a business meeting in them.
After a minute or so in Guillem’s company I forget about the shoes and warmed to his remarkable energy, humour, modesty and quiet conviction.
How did you come up with the marketing strategy for Camper, Guillem?
There was no strategy. There was no marketing. I called it ‘Mediterranean Marketing’ but this means nothing. The idea was simply to be authentically Mallorquin and take this concept outside Mallorca. I also didn’t want to follow trends or be fashionable.
This must have been pretty radical for the time, especially when Camper was already successful.
Maybe, but Llorenç’s problem was that he needed to find a way for Camper to become an international brand. I knew that if the company didn’t start marketing in a different way, it wouldn’t succeed. I knew it could be done. I listened to my heart.
What did you do?
I added new ideas to the Camper collection and created an image that was very connected with Mallorca and nature. I used natural and recycled materials.
Why was nature so important?
We are nature. And if we are nature, we cannot hurt ourselves. I knew Camper had to become a forest. The shoes had to become trees.
When did you leave Camper?
In 1998. I stayed for 15 years.
I know from Christer that you’re actively involved in ecological and educational activities that benefit Mallorca. How did that come about?
My philosophy of life is that one learns for 25 years, practices for 25 years, spends 25 years in service and spend the last 25 years preparing for the next life. Right now, I’m in service.
In 1998, I created the Pocapoc movement. This is a movement of people that inspires, encourages and creates local actions to care for the Earth, the soul and society. We’re activists dedicated to integrating ecology, spirituality, the economy of happiness and education in an atmosphere of free spirit and service to the community. Among us are the internationally known spiritual leaders, environmental activists and performers, Satish Kumar, Fritjof Capra and Vandana Shiva.
What does this involve?
We’re involved with education, training teachers to teach in new ways. We’ve been active in this space for the past 19 years throughout Mallorca. Right now, I am working with a pilgrimage project called Cami de Lluc that involves 34 towns. We have an annual Earth, Soul and Society event – the next one is in October 13th 14th and 15th of this year.
As a native Mallorquin, what do you feel about mass tourism to the island?
For me, Mallorca is like an oasis in the middle of the Sahara. There are 200 million eyes looking the island. It’s not surprising. The energy here is fantastic. The problem is that we’ve created a platform to invite people to Mallorca but we won’t set limits.
What would you do to change things?
Together with my friend and mentor, Satish Kumar, I would like to see people come to Mallorca as pilgrims. Because when you travel anywhere as a tourist you are mainly interested in yourself. The tourist mind is very egocentric, self-centred. But when you come as a pilgrim, you’re interested in the place because you feel it’s sacred and beautiful. We would also like the people of Mallorca to also think of themselves as pilgrims in their own land.
We have already created seven routes of pilgrimage across the island that start at the sea and end in the sacred forest of Lluc, not the monastery. People who walk these routes appreciate the beauty and ecology of the island. They meet Mallorquins who help them really understand what the island is about.
You seem remarkably positive. What drives you?
I am a hopist. I know that you can only change yourself. But if you do, this may change the world. The inside can help the outside.
Thank you, Guillem. That was an inspiring conversation. Now, about those shoes…
Guillem’s are Camper originals but you can buy shoes designed and made to the same principles by Irene Peukes, one of Guillem’s original Camper design team.
Irene’s company, Pla, uses jute fibres woven by hand by Bangladeshi craftswomen to create the distinctive upper part of the shoe. She works with Caritas Bangladesh and adheres to Fair Trade principles.
The completed upper, made from a single jute braid, is brought back to Mallorca where the sole, or suau, is put together using a thick layer of fabric and natural crepe.
Pla shoes are supremely comfortable and, yes, weirdly cool.
Find out more about Pocapoc here.
See Pla shoe stockists here.