- Most Read
Welcome to the Other Worldby Mark Hay
Are These Protesters at UC Berkeley Being Hypocrites?by Gabriel Reilich
Werner Herzog Motivational Posters are the Best Thing on the Internetby Laura Feinstein
We Need to Stop Saying "Babies Ruin Bodies"by Ntima Preusser
16 Images That Perfectly Capture How Completely Nuts Modern Life Has Becomeby Adam Albright-Hanna
Where Does Your Country Rank in Global Emoji Use?by Rafi Schwartz
Got Needle-Phobia? These College Freshmen Just Created An Ingenious Tool For Painless Injectionsby Rafi Schwartz
It Only Takes This Guy 27 Seconds to Show You How to Get Ahead in Lifeby Craig Carilli
Japan Unveils A Pair Of Massive, High-Efficiency, Floating Solar Power Plantsby Rafi Schwartz
How One Company Gives Flip-Flops a More Sustainable Footprint
This post is brought to you by GOOD, with support from UPS. We’ve teamed up to bring you the Small Business Collaborative, a series sharing stories about innovative small businesses that are changing business as usual for their communities and beyond. Learn how UPS is helping small businesses work better and more sustainably here.
In our consumption-driven world, it’s not hard to find people who have dozens of shoes stowed in custom-designed closets. Then there are those who stick to a single pair that gets worn with everything, in any weather. We all have a unique history and story to our shoes. Kyle Berner, owner of a single pair of shoes, was traveling in Thailand when his flip-flop strap snapped and the story of a new pair of shoes began.
Searching for replacements in a Bangkok market, Berner happened upon a display of new flip-flops made from natural rubber. “I didn’t even know that rubber came from a tree at the time,” he recalls. Berner learned that the rubber shoes supported a micro-economy of farmers dotting the Southeast Asian nations of Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. And while Berner hadn’t set out on his trip to find a business idea, but by the next day he found himself meeting with the manufacturer to learn more.
Berner had what might be described as a whirlwind love affair with those flip-flops. There was a serious “ahh” factor when he tried them on, but then an entrepreneurial revelation. He remembers coming home from Thailand, having emptied his backpack of clothes and filled it with flip-flops. “I walked into my parents’ living room with this backpack, and I turned it over, and all these flip-flops came pouring out, and I said, ‘Mom and Dad, this is it.” He’d found a passion and a business. His parents were a bit nonplussed, but were cool with him building a shed in their New Orleans backyard to store an initial stock of 300 pairs of flip-flops. He sold out in a week and Feelgoodz was born.
But more than finding a hot-selling product, Berner saw a chance to develop a sustainable business model—one inspired by Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff—that could inject fairness and responsible use in every step of the production process.
The Story of Stuff, a book and 20-minute animated web movie, taught Berner the textbook description of how we arrived at a consumption-based society and the five stages of the materials economy that support it: extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal. These steps are filled with environmental harms and societal injustice spanning deforestation, unsafe working conditions and rampant waste. Berner sought to design a logistical business plan that, rather than proliferating waste, spared the planet with each step of that materials economy.
Berner began working with a farmer co-operative that cultivates the same rubber trees for latex over the course of 40 years and then, once they’re tapped dry, plant new trees in the old trees’ stead. He found that if he connected farmers directly with manufacturers, he didn’t need the commodities brokers who typically took a cut of their profits—thereby ensuring the farmers a fairer wage.
From the farmer co-operative, the latex is processed and steamed into rubber sheets mixed with natural dyes—a step that keeps toxins out of the process and out of contact from the 200 to 300 workers who craft the flip-flops. (These workers are paid up to ten percent over minimum wage and are offered group health insurance.) Shipping the shoes is made carbon-neutral through offsets and since they're compostable and recyclable, the company encourages customers to ship them back to Feelgoodz for retail credit when they’re worn out.
And what do they do with all those worn out flip-flops customers ship back to them? To close any logistical loopholes and in an effort to create a “zero flip-flop waste world,” Feelgoodz “unflops” shoes, upcycling any pair of customers’ old flip-flops or sandals. With a partner in Kenya, the company transforms them into things like doormats, laptop bags and mouse pads. By 2014, Feelgoodz will be doing the same upcycling process closer to home in conjunction with a New Orleans-based startup as well.
It’s a full life cycle of commerce that puts great thought into a simple pair of flip-flops. A purist might ask, though, just how necessary it is for us to buy and have flip-flops in the first place when our levels of consumption are already putting the planet in peril. Says The Story of Stuff author Leonard via email, “Production, consumption and profit are not evils in themselves. They're necessary for workers to earn wages, producers to supply goods and consumers to meet their material needs. What matters is how goods are produced, how they reach the consumer and what happens at the end of their use.”
She adds, “In this case, it certainly seems as if Feelgoodz has paid close attention to every point in the cycle… Production, consumption and reuse on the Feelgoodz model—in which we'd only use what the planet could bear—would bring us closer to sustainability.”
And that’s the company’s mission: getting shoes on feet responsibly so those that make them can have a good life. For all those serious goals, Feelgoodz has the spirit you’d expect from a flip-flop company that’s philosophy is “steppin’ easy.” Having put in the effort to ethically streamline its model, Feelgoodz hopes those who wear their shoes will “chill out, slow down, relax and enjoy life.” And with their business model, they’re hoping to preserve an environment in which we all have a chance to do so.
Is Russophobia a Thing? Yes, it sounds like paranoid, Putin-backed propaganda, but the term also sheds light on the West’s history of Russian stereotypes.
Opinion Mark Hay
Low-Wage Workers of the World United in Fight for Living Wage The people have spoken, but will the corporations listen?
Business Craig Carilli
Dreaming of Walter Scott …And Eric Harris, and Freddie Gray, whose videotaped deaths are feeding the nightmares of black Americans.
Opinion Kasai Rex
Black Lives Matter is Collecting Audio Recordings for a Public Story Bank The project asks people to imagine a world where black life is valued.
Culture Tasbeeh Herwees
Insulted Native American Actors Abandon Filming For Adam Sandler’s New Movie The script included gags that traded on racist ideas about Native Americans.
Culture David Rhee
Neighborday Idea #6: Organize a Neighborhood Fruit Harvest If there’s surplus fruit in your neighborhood, pool together your resources and share it with those in need. #LetsNeighbor
Cities Autumn Rooney