Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Waste not...

How does a pile of scrap foam inspire a business plan?  About four years ago, on yet another development trip in Asia for the company that used to sign my checks, a group of us ran across this pile of scrap material in a paved area behind one of the factories:

We were amazed by the amount of waste generated by making sandals.  We were already concerned with what happened to the finished product at the end of its life cycle – straight to the trash heap.  Right then, I thought “when I do my own thing, I’m doing it better.”  Well, here we are.  

Our goal is a closed loop sandal.  I think that’s the goal of any product design now, or should be anyway.  It’s guided by the Cradle-to-Cradle™ design philosophy, and we think we can get there eventually.  The goal is to put nothing into a landfill – when you’re done with your sandals, send ‘em back – we’ll take them apart and recycle the components to make new sandals.  

It’s a pretty ambitious goal, and there are quite a few obstacles in the way of making it happen.  For instance, we’ll need a glue strong enough to keep the sandals together during the full user-life, yet one that’s able to easily come apart when the time comes to separate the components for re-use.  Oh yeah – it needs to be a glue and primer that’s safe for the environment, too.  Then there’s the recycle-ability of the components themselves.  The straps we plan on using will be made from recycled polyester, and that can be recycled time and again.  The problem comes from the rubber and EVA used for the footbed: we can’t make a footbed with 100% recycled EVA or Rubber at this point, but we can recycle the materials we get back and keep them out of the landfill.

We’re not at the stage where we can make the closed loop sandal happen just yet, but we have confidence we’ll get there.  What we are committed to doing is using the best techniques we know of, and creating some new ones.  We plan on eliminating almost all the waste from our process, and recycling what little waste we do create.  We plan on using water-based adhesives and primers instead of the traditional solvent-based ones.  We plan to use only recyclable materials wherever and whenever we can – we want to make product that never sees a landfill, and use processes that produce no waste.

Here’s the catch: it’s gotta fit well, be comfortable, and last a long time.  What good is it to make an earth-friendlier sandal that nobody wants to wear?  We’ll be making the highest quality sandals on the market.  They’ll fit properly.  They’ll have the right amount of arch support.  They’ll be comfortable the day you get them, yet they’ll mold to the shape of your foot over time without “packing out” and losing their cushioning.  

We hope that when you finally wear out a pair of our sandals, you’ll want to send them back to us and get the exact same pair again – and maybe try out a different pair too…!

When we say “made better,” that’s what we mean:  better quality and better for the environment.