With Earth Day just around the corner, if you’re looking to quite literally reduce your carbon footprint, you should know about these two companies that are thinking outside the shoebox with unique materials used to create groundbreaking footwear.
As of April 2018, more than 9 million plastic water bottles have been given a second life as a pair of shoes. Rothy’s offers women’s ballet flats, pointed flats, and loafers all made from recycled water bottles.
The company uses a unique process to turn the bottles into a plastic yarn. “Recycled plastic water bottles are hot washed and sterilized and then chipped into flakes,” explains Roth Martin, the company’s founder and chief creative officer. “The plastic flakes are extruded into pellets and then drawn into soft filaments of plastic.”
You might expect a shoe made from a plastic water bottle to feel rigid and stiff, but the plastic fiber is soft and flexible. This makes for a woven shoe that is seamless, slightly stretchy, durable, stylish, and lightweight.
“Rothy’s uses an efficient, precise knitting process giving us ability to make the right style, pattern, and color decision in real time with very little waste,” Martin explains. This knitting process ensures that there are no seams or stiff edges to cause blisters, so the shoes feel ‘broken-in’ as soon as you slip them on. They also have just the right amount of give so that they mold to your feet.
The insoles are made from recycled plastic and recyclable foam and the soles are recycled carbon-free rubber. The resulting product weighs 9.3 ounces.
While the shoes are a bit of an investment—starting at $125 for The Flat—they are truly made to last. Given the construction materials, Rothy’s are fully machine washable. Just remove the insole and throw both the insoles and the shoes in the washing machine. Use a cold, delicate setting and a mild detergent and let them air dry. (Heat will cause the shoe to shrink and lose shape.)
“Your shoes cover a lot of ground and if you’re in a big city they are bound to get dirty. Having them be machine washable just makes sense,” Martin explains. “They last longer so you are being a responsible consumer by consuming less. You wash everything else you wear—why not your shoes?”
Comfort and durability were the two main goals when Rothy’s founders Roth Martin and Stephen Hawthornthwaite first developed the shoe. “With the rise of athleisure and casualization we noticed a need for a chic women’s shoe that could go from yoga to cocktails,” Martin says. “Our wives and friends were wearing gym shoes when they weren’t going to the gym. Through that realization we began doing research and found a real opportunity to create an alternative, versatile shoe—one with the ease of a sneaker but the polish of a feminine flat.”
“We truly envision Rothy’s as the perfect front of the closet shoe,” Martin adds. “You put them on in the morning to walk the dog and don’t take them off until you get home at night.”
Style doesn’t suffer for the sake of comfort and sustainability, as each of the silhouettes is available in plenty of unique colors and patterns that change with the seasons.
When your Rothy’s do eventually wear out, you can give them yet another life (for free!) as a yoga mat, shoe outsoles, or even the insoles of a new pair of Rothy’s. Send them to PLUSfoam—in the same re-sealable box they arrived in—to be recycled. This is key, since a UK study estimates that 85% of the 12 billion shoes produced yearly end up in landfills.
While Rothy’s doesn’t yet have any brick-and-mortar stores, you can easily try out the shoes thanks to the company’s free shipping and free returns policy.
Rothy’s // The Flat, $125 // The Point, $145 // The Loafer, $165
The company known for making sustainable shoes out of wool just came out with a new eco-friendly line made from trees. Allbirds now offers a Tree line with two classic styles: athletic Runners and leisure Skippers.
“Allbirds is committed to making better things in a better way and as a company, we constrain our search for comfort to renewable materials, as opposed to synthetics or leathers,” the team says. “From day one, we have been on an exploration for components that are not only sustainable, but also deliver novel comfort experiences. Tree is our most sustainable product to date with the same incredible comfort and minimal design customers have come to expect from the us, with an even lighter carbon footprint.”
“In combination with one of the most cutting edge knitting technologies—reliant on software engineering versus traditional industrial knitting machines, which also helps us cut waste out of the manufacturing process—we brought eucalyptus fiber to the footwear industry for the first time,” they explain.
The Tree line is made from a fabric Allbirds engineered using ethically-sourced and Forest Stewardship Council-certified eucalyptus fiber. Compared to traditional footwear, the company says the Tree line uses 20 times less water, three times less land, and has an overall carbon footprint that is 17 times smaller. This is thanks to the eucalyptus fiber, which uses 95% less water compared to traditional materials like cotton.
The shoes are simple and minimalistic in design, but not in construction. The upper portion of the shoe is a eucalyptus fiber mesh knit that is breathable, moisture-wicking, and smooth. The nautical-inspired laces are made from post-consumer recycled polyester. The insoles are made with ethically- and sustainably-sourced merino wool fabric (like the original line) for extra softness and odor reduction. They also contain castor bean oil for cushioning, which cuts the carbon output as compared to petroleum-based foam.
Since the shoes are soft enough to wear sockless, they’re also machine washable—you can put them in a delicates bag, wash on gentle, and air dry. You can stretch the lifespan of the shoes by purchasing new insoles if they start to wear out, since this is the part of a shoe that often begins to stink after frequent use.
If you’re hesitant about spending $95 on a pair of Allbirds, you can always take them for a test run first. The company offers a 30-day trial period during which you can return your shoes for free, even after wearing them outside. The gently used shoes are donated to Soles4Souls, which helps communities in need.
Allbirds // Tree Runners, $95 // Tree Skippers, $95