8000Kicks’ Bernardo Carreira On Destigmatizing Hemp Products

Hear what setbacks came with developing waterproof hemp shoes (and how 8000Kicks overcame them).

Developing your own line of hemp shoes is no easy feat. Starting a DTC brand is hard enough; overcoming the stigma attached to Cannabis only adds to the challenge.

But for Bernardo Carreira, founder and CEO of 8000Kicks, these were challenges he was eager to tackle head-on.

In this episode of The Checkout, Bernardo walks our host, Adii Pienaar, through his brand’s journey to becoming the world’s first waterproof hemp shoes.

Tune in to learn:

  • How 8000Kicks used Kickstarter to fund its launch
  • The brand’s secret to kicking the stigma attached to Cannabis
  • If customers care about sustainability or savings more
  • Why owning up to your mistakes can be the most powerful thing your brand does

Tune in on: Apple | Google | Spotify

“One thing that they need to nail really well is marketing. They need to know their customers very well and how to reach them efficiently. It's not easy to come in and be profitable if you don't nail this completely well.”
- Bernardo Carreira, founder & CEO at 8000Kicks

Meet Bernardo Carreira

Bernardo Carreira is the founder and CEO of 8000Kicks. After working in London as a PR manager for OpenSignal, he went home to Portugal to start a new business. 

A conversation with his friends led to the idea for 8000Kicks. His grandmother Otilia, a textile expert with 50+ years of experience, would help him make it a reality.

Since then, Otilia and Bernardo have created a new product category that has helped transform the footwear industry.

Connect with Bernardo on LinkedIn

About 8000Kicks

8,000Kicks is the world’s first brand to sell waterproof hemp shoes.

Considered the “sober cousin” of Cannabis, hemp  has been used as a textile since 8000 BC. The material has minimal amounts of psychoactive components, so it is legal everywhere in the world.

But why hemp? For starters, it’s more durable than cotton, polyester, and nylon. But it’s also more ecological — needing no fertilizers, less water, and emitting 72% less CO2 during production.

Since 8000Kicks’ launch in 2020, the sneaker brand has expanded into other hemp-based accessories, including backpacks, wallets, and laptop cases.

Learn more about 8000Kicks on: LinkedIn | Website

The Checkout episode 57 unpacks:

In this episode, Bernardo walks us through 8000Kick’s journey from start to finish. Here are the highlights:


The 5 am idea that almost got Bernardo evicted

  • Over beers with some friends, someone suggested making a shoe out of Cannabis. Bernardo said it “was the stupidest idea ever until [he] really thought about it.”
  • “I went to my grandma: What do you think about us making a hemp shoe? She didn’t like the idea. She wanted to kick me out of the house.”
  • Then Ottila (Bernardo’s grandmother with over 50 years of textile experience) saw hemp fabric samples and knew it would be a game changer

Relentlessly knocking on factories' doors

  • Out of the 50 factories Bernardo called, only 5 showed interest
  • Initially, he thought he was buying hemp from France, but it was coming from China
  • “I was like, why? And then I realized that China was the only country in the world that never banned hemp. So, all quality hemp fabric came from China.”
  • Every time Bernardo changed suppliers, he had to educate the factories on hemp to ensure quality

Driving innovation by testing, failing, and working closely with partners

  • Bernardo spent thousands of dollars testing and iterating in the lab until they developed a hemp fabric that was up to his standards
  • Their goal was to get hemp ready to compete in an industry led by polyester, nylon, and cotton
  • “We were literally trying to level up [hemp as a material]. Now, we are playing neck-to-neck with [other footwear textiles] because we spent all this money developing it. We needed to push so that [our factories] went as close as possible to what we were looking for.”

Creating buzz for the world’s first hemp shoes

  • Bernardo spent over a year developing the world’s first hemp shoe
  • To generate buzz for the product, he put together a Kickstarter campaign. At first, he put his own money into scaling the Kickstarter campaign, hoping to attract more investment. But he eventually partnered with an agency to help land media exposure
  • “There’s always a lucky part into [building hype]. We got featured in Bloomberg, Wired, and Hypebeast, and that boosted our Kickstarter campaign.”

From bankruptcy to selling out in 12 hours

  • 8000Kicks launched in 2020 with just over 5,000 pairs of shoes, selling out immediately
  • When Covid hit, the new brand’s operations skidded to a stop for ~6 months
  • Dealing with production problems and switching factories, 8000Kicks was edging toward bankruptcy
  • “I drove all the way to the north of Portugal to another factory. I was crying, begging for help for someone to manufacture my shoes. Two weeks later, we opened the website again after a pause of 6 months. We sold out in 12 hours.”

It paid to keep brand awareness alive during the pandemic

  • Despite the economic downturn during the pandemic, 8000Kicks never stopped building their email list and sharing honest updates on Instagram about what was happening
  • “For 6 months, we had all these customers accumulating and signing up on our website. I just kept sending, Hey guys – I’m sorry, we are not spending any money, but we were nurturing these people that organically came to us. These people were willing to wait.”

Owning up to your mistakes humanizes your brand

  • Bernardo admits that the first version of their shoes was not perfect, so he consistently apologized to customers and provided transparency on what they were doing to improve.
  • “We are not just a big machine, we are a bunch of people here.”
  • Bernardo was clear that the brand’s aim was to replace polyester (the leading pollutant in fashion and a go-to material for shoe brands)
  • “We are here to change things, but do you think Rome was built in one day? Our hemp is better [today] compared to what it was a year ago. And in the next year, it’ll be even better.”

Do customers care about sustainability over savings?

  • Bernardo ran a Christmas campaign on Instagram that would give the customers the option to claim a 30% discount or donate their savings to charity instead
  • Unfortunately, most people opted for a 30% discount instead of donating their savings
  • Bernardo loves when people ask about 8000Kick’s dedication to sustainability but says most consumers don’t care about the ethos as much as you’d expect

Brands should never give up on sustainability

  • “When you wake up in the morning, it feels better knowing life is not just about making money but fighting for something more and doing something good for humanity.”
  • Sustainability doesn’t necessarily resonate with every single customer. However, inspired by the impact of Patagonia, Bernardo is keen to drive change and leave a legacy behind
  • “Patagonia is a big inspiration. And this is what we want to do. We wanna create this big sustainable option that is actually superior to other products and that people can opt-in while feeling their conscience is clean.”

Earning customer trust matters more than launching new products

  • There are tons of products in the market made from hemp, but most are poor quality
  • 8000Kicks is intentional about launching new products only once they’re ready for the market because they don’t want people to lose trust in hemp products
  • “We have to cherry-pick what is the best thing that we can do with hemp that is going to be good quality, right? We don’t wanna fall into this trap of losing customer trust in the fiber.”

How Bernardo’s grandmother impacted 8000Kicks’ success

  • It will take more time to destigmatize hemp
  • Ottilia is an expert in textiles, and her involvement adds a wonderful charm to the brand, helping to build credibility
  • “This is where she actually plays a really good role as well, not just in development but in marketing, educating people. She’s trustworthy. Everyone trusts a grandmother.”

Optimizing the small things to unlock big wins

  • Simply optimizing the size of their packaging allowed 8000Kicks to save up to 50% costs in shipping
  • Most people don’t buy shoes online, so they opened their first store in Lisbon at the end of 2022 to get closer to the customers. This also streamlined returns and exchanges
  • “We always keep innovating. There are always a ton of things that we test, and sometimes we fail. That’s it.”

The one thing consumer businesses can nail for success

  • For Bernardo, one thing businesses need to do really well is marketing
  • “When iOS 14 rolled out, 30% of businesses went bankrupt. So, you need to know your customers well and how to reach them efficiently.”
  • Reaching profitability is really hard unless you have an amazing product, you really know your target customers, and you have a strategy for achieving them without spending out the wazzoo