Indosole is one of the world’s leading producers of footwear that are sustainable and environmentally-friendly. The term “sustainable economy” has many connotations, but to be sustainable something must use available resources so that they not only last for their intended purpose, but also provide more value over time.
For Indosole, this meant developing new materials through experimentation with pulverized waste tires bound for the landfill. After years of deep R&D, their lab scientists mimicked nature by rebuilding the rubber from scratch. This discovery resulted in their own Sole Engineered Tire Technology (SETT®), which allows them to develop new material using natural and recycled rubber!
Millennial sat down with Indosole founder, Kyle Parsons, to learn about the company’s sustainability initiatives.
Tell us about your background before starting Indosole. What made you want to start this venture?
For me, Indosole was the result of several life experiences spanning nearly 20 years. It was crazy because I didn’t even realize this until I was years into building the brand and was taking a storytelling class in San Francisco. Our assignment was to map out our life and how we got to this moment and place. During that exercise I had a lightbulb moment and finally understood that Indosole was a hybrid of my past. It all made sense at that moment.
I made my first trip to Bali in 2004. I was immediately blown away by the culture, the land, ocean, art and purity….but also of the trash problem. The food was incredible and everything was so cheap and there were uncrowded waves. It felt like paradise and the kind of place I would love to be a part of.
The local Balinese have super cool art and are very talented at making something out of nothing and I had heard stories about how brands like Volcom made their first boardshorts in Bali and it was a haven for up and coming garments and softgoods brands. This was intriguing to me.
I was shopping around in Seminyak one day when the pair of sandals I was wearing broke on the sidewalk and I stood there barefoot. I needed a solution, needed some shoes real quick. But I wanted something unique to Bali, and nothing that anyone already had in California. So, I popped into a boutique and found a pair of sandals that had a natural weave ontop – very Bali style. But when I flipped it over I saw that the sole was made of a raw but chunky tire.
I asked the woman running the store what kind of tire it is and she said motorbike. Meanwhile there were thousands upon thousands of motorbikes whizzing by the window. I wondered….where do all the tires go and would there be a market for a product like this??
So, I did a bit of research about tire pollution. Then, I got home and spent time thinking about this idea and how cool it could be. I finally went back to Bali two years later and back to the exact boutique where I bought the sandals and got to work. The same woman was there and I asked her if we could make some sandals together.
Making a product like this is easier said than done, and has taken a long time but we have learned a lot along the way.
How do you go about sourcing tires? Do you partner with any recycling organizations?
At the beginning we started by just grabbing tires wherever we could find them. There were lots on the beach and the side of the road. We carried them to the workshop to test different tires to see which ones worked best. We began with motorbike tires.
As time went on, we needed more and more tires and the process of collections evolved similar to our business. Pretty soon we had a couple of trucks with guys going around to various mechanics, tire shops, and junkyards and collecting tires all day long. Then, delivering them to the workshop for cutting and preparing to become a shoe.
Then, in 2016/2017 we realized in order to really scale our business and make a big environmental impact we needed to reevaluate how we worked with tires and take a different approach. So, we sought out for a larger manufacturing facility and to combine that with a new process.
After some R&D we created a formula to pulverize tires into a granular and combine that tire powder with recycled foam and some synthetic rubber to create a durable sole. By doing this, we now have a consistent product which is setup for scale and a message that is relatable worldwide.
Now, we get tire donations from large tire companies and this opens up opportunities for partnerships into the future.
How many tires has Indosole repurposed? And how many pairs of shoes does a single tire produce?
The benefit of upgrading our process is that now we can use 100% of the tire by recycling it. Before, we were upcycling the tires but could only use certain parts of it. So, even though the product had soul and charm, we were leaving waste behind.
Now while being more efficient we can make approx. 8 pair of sandals from each tire. But we now take in tires in all different sizes, so in some cases it is up to 10 pair from one tire.
To date, we have prevented around 150k tires from ending up on the landfill and we will keep on going!
How has Covid impacted your business? Have you noticed an increase in online sales or had to battle any major supply chain issues?
When Covid first hit the scene last March it was a major shock for us being a spring/summer seasonal brand. We had worked hard the previous fall to pre-book orders for spring delivery and then of course the retailers were shut and cancelling their orders. This lead us to cancel a big production run at the factory and slow way down. There were some uncertain and scary days. But we knew that we were not alone and used the time to restructure lots of things.
Fortunately our factory has taken the appropriate steps to keeping the workers safe and employed.
Now, we have more emphasis on our web direct business, providing better service and running things tight and we are excited for a BIG summer here in 2021/22.
What is in the 2021/22 pipeline for Indosole? Will you be adding to your Collection?
With a conservative effort to keep things easy in 2021 we have only introduced a few new colors which are fun and selling very well: Pollen and Rust. Both of these are being sold with Free People right now and are a fun look for Spring.
We also have a new line of color combo slides and flips for men and women and these are awesome. Each of our core colors are inspired by elements of nature we support the protection of: Black=Preventing Tires from Burning – Leaf = Protecting our Jungle/Rainforest Shore=Protecting our Oceans – Soil=Protecting our Lands – Sea Salt=For our Natural MineralsI
In 2022 we will be diving deeper into the landfill and introducing new materials which could be upcycled/recycled into better products on the second try. Did you know that you actually can make new shoes from old shoes? Stay tuned….