The Jasper Wool Eco Chukka Proves That Shoes Can Be Designed Sustainably

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©. United By Blue (used with permission)

This ingenious design uses biodegradable waste products to build the greenest shoe you've ever owned.

Twenty-three billion pairs of shoes are made every year, and all of these end up in landfill eventually. Because they're mostly made from plastic, they do not biodegrade, but will kick around for centuries, leaching toxic chemicals and plastic microfibers into the surrounding ground – a memento for your great, great-grandchildren to encounter someday.

It doesn't have to be this way. It's entirely possible to make high-quality, long-lasting footwear from renewable, compostable, and truly recyclable materials, as long as we're willing to think outside the (shoe) box. A few companies have shown it's possible to make functional, eco-friendly shoes, but these methods have not gone mainstream by any means. That's why I'm so happy to hear that another company is joining the race for sustainable footwear.

SOLE x UBB shoe launch

© United By Blue (used with permission)

American ethical apparel company United By Blue (a.k.a. maker of organic fair-trade tees, bison puffers, and acclaimed collector of plastic trash) has partnered with Canadian shoemaker SOLE to create a shoe that is sustainable "from tongue to tread." Called the Jasper Wool Eco Chukka, it's a casual gender-neutral shoe that boasts an impressive list of eco materials:

  • Recycled cork sole, made from ground-down wine stoppers (there are 40 corks per pair of men's shoes)
  • UBB's award-winning bison hair insulation, made from hair that would otherwise be sent to landfill by ranchers
  • Ethically-sourced and fully traceable merino wool upper from Australia that gives breathable stretch and comfort, and allows the shoes to be worn without socks if desired
  • A spongy footbed made from BLOOM algae foam, which is taken from polluted waterways; it requires 35% less energy to produce than regular EVA and has 40% less impact on ecosystems and climate
  • A natural outsole made from rice rubber, which is produced from rice husks, a waste byproduct
  • Natural rubber made from latex sap that is collected continuously from trees over a 25-year period and takes 7x less energy to produce than synthetic rubber
SOLE x UBB shoe launch, with corks

© United By Blue (used with permission)

SOLE started a wine cork collection program in 2008 called ReCORK and has gathered 100 million corks to date. It's now North America's largest cork recycling program. SOLE grinds down the corks and turns them into a durable, sustainable alternative to petroleum-based foams and plastics. It has also planted over 8,000 cork oak trees to date.

The Jasper Wool Eco Chukka launched initially as a Kickstarter campaign and was fully funded within the first 24 hours. Clearly this is something people want – a shoe that they can feel good about wearing and know it won't continue to harm the environment long after it has served its purpose. When given that option, why would you choose anything different?

SOLE x UBB shoe launch, standing by lake

© United By Blue (used with permission)

You can pre-order a pair until April 4, when the campaign ends. Eventually the shoes will become available online.