Functional Footwear with a Valuable Twist

[Image courtesy of Indosole]

Sustainability, innovativeness, and local empowerment are three characteristics that can set businesses apart. A California-based company, Indosole, which runs production operations in Indonesia, is putting these values into practice and designing quality shoes from materials left in landfills that would take thousands of years to decompose. 

Indosole uses old motorcycle tires from Indonesia to form the soles of sandals and beach shoes. The tires are “re-purposed,” meaning they are used in their present form, unlike recycling which involves the melting down, off gassing or re-forming of materials, potentially causing harm to the environment. 

At the center of this work is the individual. Utilizing the labor of skilled Balinese artisans and their families through fair business practices, the company provides local employment opportunities and uncovers the comparative advantage that Indonesia possesses for this type of shoe production. 

In the start-up process, the company’s business developer, Kai Paul, noticed the abundance of motorcycles in Indonesia and the easy availability of their tires once road-use expires. “You literally go to a landfill almost every day and pluck tires from the landfill,” Paul said.

The company, which has set the goal of saving one million tires from Indonesian landfills, claims that the creation of two pairs of shoes saves one tire from a landfill. 

Although similar in appearance to some models produced by TOMS, Indosole shoes represent an entirely different business approach. Comparing the companies, Paul states, “One donates to developing countries, one provides jobs and a new use for discarded resources.” Indosole offers a positive alternative for those seeking new shoes and hoping to enable local development and improved livelihood in other parts of the globe. 

Moreover, Indosole embraces a commitment to local culture, channeling profits into Indonesia and allowing artisans direct employment and input into the work that is performed. The aim of the company is clear: to provide Indonesians with entrepreneurial opportunities, produce goods in a sustainable manner, and advance business ties between the countries. As Paul observes, “Indonesia is a hidden gem that we want to promote.” Through the retail of shoes online, in the United States, and in stores abroad, this goal is being realized. 


There are other companies doing great work, and unfortunately, it would be impossible to include all of them in one blog post. However, I think it's important to draw attention to another footwear company that stands out in terms of its business approach, soleRebels. Based in Ethiopia, it is the world's first Fair Trade footwear company, producing shoes from recycled tires, as well as organic cottons and other fibers. Ethiopian artisans create the shoes and earn on average four times the country's legal minimum wage. soleRebels products are sold in over 14 countries around the world. Fostering trade and creating local business oppportunities, the company, like Indosole, provides a good example of how prosperity can be created and human dignity promoted. 

Dec 182012
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