ALL THE INFORMATION
An ode to all the sustainability nerds
We all know it - companies claiming to be sustainable but doesn't walk the talk. Information and full transparency is the only way for us to distinguish between the truly sustainable companies and the greenwashers. As a conscious consumer myself, I used hours searching for information about the materials used in a product, a company's working practises and so on - but it was nowhere to be found. This is why we have created this extended info page - where you hopefully can find the answers to all of your questions.
If there is anything, that you are curious about, which we have not written about here, then please let us know. In that way we can figure it out and add it to the page.
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The soles are made at a factory close to Porto. These soles are made from what they call “eco-rubber” - a sustainable material made from 70% recycled rubber and 30% natural/virgin rubber. The recycled rubber is leftovers from their own production. We considered a lot of different options for the sole, since this is the main contributor to the overall environmental impact of the shoe. We did not want a plastic sole, and therefore a lot of otherwise "sustainable" options were not an option for us. Our prototypes were made from 100% natural rubber, but since the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) showed that the recycled rubber had a lower environmental impact - we changed to the eco-rubber.
1.2 Textile Waste
The jeans are sourced from a textile waste sorting facility, which is also located near Porto. They receive around 13 tonnes of textile waste per day, which they get from their containers that are located at different places all around their area. They sort the different clothing (and shoes) into specific categories. One of these categories are jeans that cannot be reused - e.g. because they have a hole in them. These are the jeans that we are using for our production. We believe that it is crucial to follow the waste management hierarchy as much as possible, so we do not want to use textiles that can be reused. These non-reusable jeans would otherwise have been shipped to e.g. India, where they would be turned into low quality products such as carpets and insulation - if we did not upcycle them for shoes.
The workwear is sourced from a workwear company located in Portugal (again - close to Porto). Since their workwear which is 100% cotton is recycled in Spain, it was not possible for us to use this (this would otherwise be our first choice). However, they have a lot of workwear, which is currently being incinerated. It is wasted because it is either too old (stains or holes) or it is not in an active collection anymore. The work clothes that we will be using will often be a Polyester and cotton blend.
The insoles are made in Italy by a company working with many different sustainable options for footwear. We chose the 70% Tencel // 30% Corn Fiber option, since it apart from being natural and biodegradable also offers superb properties regarding e.g. comfort and breathability. The soles are e.g. moisture absorbing, breathable and has antibacterial properties.
For the laces the most common sustainable options are recycled plastic (either recycled polyester or recycled plastic bottles) and organic cotton. Since we are trying to minimize plastic in our shoes, we eliminated the first option but weren’t too keen on the organic cotton option either. This is due to the fact, that cotton (even though it is organic) still has a big environmental footprint since it is a very thirsty plant. We searched for a long time to find recycled cotton laces and ended up finding an Italian lace manufacturer, that had a good selection of 100% recycled cotton laces.
The packaging is going to be made from recycled cardboard. We will keep the design as simple as possible in order to limit the amount of toxic colourants and increase the recyclability. For the details on the box, we will be using soy based ink. For now, the packaging is the shape of a normal shoe box. In the near future we will look into other and more efficient ways of packaging the shoes.
1.6 Other materials
There are other materials that goes into the shoe production than the ones mentioned above. This includes the reinforcement, that is used to strengthen the toe and the heel area, where the shoe and the foot needs extra support. We are working on finding a sustainable solution for this. The normal reinforcement that the factory use is made from a plastic material.
2.1 Ethical Production
For us it has been super important to find a factory that lives up to the highest standards when it comes to sustainability - both socially and environmentally. However, finding a factory that wanted to work with a small start-up like us, who on top of that wanted to make shoes from textile waste, was not easy. We are so happy with the Portuguese family owned factory, who we are currently working with. They have responsible production practises and fair working conditions. Concrete examples on this are, that they provide full time permanent employment and they offer health care and maternity leave for their workers. The shoemakers work maximum 40 hours per week and are not paid less than the Portuguese minimum wage (most of them are paid much more). They are also working on getting a license for a more environmentally sustainable production - this includes installing solar panels on their roofs.
2.3 What do we mean when we say upcycling?
Upcycling for us is when we take something that was going to be wasted and transform it into another product of same or higher value. So we are taking discarded textiles and transforming them into shoes. For us it also means that we are retaining the value in the material itself - we are not shredding the fabric and making it into new fabric. We are just using the fabric as it is.
2.4 Do you create waste in your production?
Yes we do. It is the classic cookie cutter problem, except for the fact that we can’t take the leftover fabric and roll it into a new big piece of fabric. Therefore waste will be created, when we cut out the patterns. However, we are trying to limit the amount of cut-offs being wasted as much as possible by using it for the details on the Zebra shoes and of course being as effective as possible in the placement of the pattern pieces.
We live in a crazy world, where the wealthy countries get away with “exporting” their waste (and their problems) to other countries. Most textile waste travel far distances, a lot of the textiles that we are saving would otherwise have been going to African countries or East European countries. We have done our best to keep a low proximity for everything going to the shoe factory near Porto. This means that most of the suppliers are located in Portugal. There were instances where we couldn’t find sustainable suppliers of e.g. laces and insoles in Portugal. They are located in Italy.
3.2 Transportation methods
Depending on what the supplier choose to deliver in, we are going to have to accept this for the moment. The bigger we get, the more influence we get, and we will start to require more environmentally friendly transportation methods as soon as we can. For the transportation of the textile waste, we have not settled on a solution yet. But again, here we will of course aim for the most sustainable solution.
Extending the lifetime of a pair of shoes can limit its environmental footprint drastically. Durability is therefore a high priority for us. Our minimum standard is that they should last just as long as a regular pair of sneakers. We use high quality materials and they are constructed in a way that increases the durability.
The goal is to at least double the lifetime, by enabling the separation and reconnection of the sole and the upper. This has not been possible for us to achieve for this collection. However, it is something that we will be working tirelessly on to achieve in the near future.
4.2 Limiting release of microplastic
As mentioned in some of the points above, we are limiting the amount of plastic in our sneakers. Most shoes are made of various types of plastic - from an EVA sole to a Nylon or Polyester upper. We are trying to avoid that, by prioritising natural materials such as cotton and natural rubber. The only plastic in our shoes, is the Polyester that is blended with cotton in the workwear and perhaps also the reinforcement (unless we succeed in finding a better option).
Recirculating products at the end of their lifetime is a complex matter. This is due to the fact, that it is both dependent on how the shoe is designed and produced (e.g. materials used, and gathering methods), but it is also dependent on the waste management options in the other end. It could therefore happen, that we produce a 100% recyclable product (in theory), that cannot be recycled in reality - because the municipality does not offer the option to recycle this material.
Since our shoes are mainly just made from textiles and the rubber sole, our sole manufacturer can take the shoes back and recycle them into new soles. They shred the whole shoe and then use it as input material in their sole production.
As mentioned above, our sole supplier can take back the shoes and recycle them - and therefore we are offering a take-back programme. We are still figuring out the specifics regarding the take-back programme, but overall it will be a model, where you can send the shoes back to us in the shoe-box - and we will refund you the shipment costs.
However, before you send us your shoes, there is some things to consider:
Can it be reused?
If the shoes are still in good condition (they can still be reused), we advise you to sell them or give them away as the first option. Reuse is highest in the hierarchy and always the best option in terms of retaining the value in the shoe.
How far does it have to travel?
Another thing to consider, is how far the shoe has to travel to get back to us. Stores such as Vagabond also offers to take back any shoes in their stores. If you live far away from us (we are located in Copenhagen) - a better option might therefore be to send them back to us. It is unfortunately not possible to send them directly to the sole manufacturer in Portugal, since they have a minimum on the quantities that they can receive.