*This blog contains affiliate links
The shoes that everyone has in their closets? White sneakers. The shoes that get the dirtiest and are therefore replaced the most? White sneakers. Shoe sales in the United States have skyrocketed to over 2.4 billion, and sadly, 97% of shoes end up in the landfill. What if I told you that there is a company that is creating a 100% recyclable shoe that is staying out of the landfill—FOR GOOD. *Spotlight shines, choir sings melodiously.* Let’s talk about Thousand Fell. I had the amazing opportunity to speak with Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum, the co-founders of Thousand Fell (IG: @thousand_fell), a sustainable shoe startup that launched in 2019. Their mission? To pioneer and champion circular economy and make sustainable footwear more inclusive and accessible to everyone. They have designed two basic styles: the Lace Up and the Slip On—available in men and women’s sizing. We were able to discuss their business practices, and what it means to have a sustainable (closed loop) supply chain.
(Toomb inserts are italicized, BTW). Toomb: What is the main goal of Thousand Fell and the reasons for building your company? C&S: Our goal is to talk to the growing younger demographic who want to participate in circular economy—meaning those who want to shop more consciously and support sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion should be affordable, especially everyday wear products such as shoes. Our goal is to make a pair of shoes as close to $100 as we can. We want more people to be able to participate in the circular economy (shopping sustainable brands). Toomb: What aspects of a sustainable supply chain do you think are most important? In other words, if companies are wanting to close the loop in their own supply chains, what is the first step? C&S: We believe there are three distinct parts of sustainability: 1.0: Supply Chain Transparency People should know what’s going on BTS!
2.0: Material Innovation Finding new ways to design and manufacture using natural/biodegradable materials. Create new shoes out of old ones. Thousand Fell has a full recycling facility, where our shoes can be taken apart and be fully recycled. Rubber and foam are the only two components that can’t be used in making a new, clean pair of sneakers; so instead, the rubber and foam are up-cycled to other local city projects (aka rubber playground mulch). 3.0: End of Life Ownership (important!!)* Brands should be responsible for what happens to their products even after customers purchase them. No brand should be okay with their products being thrown away! At Thousand Fell, we want to know what happens after product usage—which is why we created a shoe that can be 100% recycled and up-cycled. We close the loop by encouraging our customers to send back their old shoes, heavily worn or not, so we can donate them domestically, or break them down back into their base components to make a brand new pair! (Plus you get a voucher for $20 off your next purchase. What’s not to love!). Toomb: What part of the supply chain has the most impact to overall sustainability? C&S: MATERIAL SOURCING. We design and use materials with our End of Life plan in mind. (85% of textile waste ends up in the landfills). Shoes are a huge component of this waste because they are “high frequency basics” and are offered at such a lower price point. For shoes that are of a higher price-point, the resale model is the best way to keep them within the closed loop. However, the shoes you wear everyday are going to wear out faster, and unfortunately, a majority of shoes that are “donated” end up in the landfills because they aren’t suitable for second-life ownership. That being said, sourcing high quality materials and finding natural alternatives for synthetic fibers is really important to closing the loop in your supply chain model, and keeping it sustainable. Toomb: What is the most harmful material in shoe manufacturing? C&S: LEATHER. Shoes are typically made up of leather and TPUs (Thermoplastic Polyurethane aka a rubber/plastic hybrid). Tanned leather, which contains toxic chemicals, is the worst offender in shoe manufacturing. (Read about why Thousand Fell does not use leather here.) At Thousand Fell, we use vegan leather (¡WOO!). Vegan leather has a 24x lower carbon output than traditional leather just in the manufacturing process. Is vegan leather perfect? No. But it’s a step we can take to work towards a low carbon output. Toomb: What are some challenges that Thousand Fell faces in staying sustainable vs. a company that doesn’t have a sustainable mindset? C&S: Definitely cost and time. It took us 2.5-3 years to source the materials we use and launch the shoe (See Thousand Fell’s materials here!) The recycling process is expensive, and we pay to recycle the shoes that are brought back to us. With the rise of sustainable practices and textile recycling, hopefully the cost of recycling will decrease—which means we can put out a shoe that is even more affordable! We want everyone to have access to a sustainable alternative. Toomb: How do you think we can get more people on board with shopping sustainably/consciously? C&S: Sustainability is hard, for starters. People end up doing nothing because there is “too much.” (“Don’t use plastic straws; carry a reusable bag with you; compost; shop secondhand; go vegan.) To help mitigate that stigma, we want to have clear messaging about sustainability and shopping consciously to educate our consumers! Making sustainable goods more accessible to the customer will be the first step in making the transition; sustainability shouldn’t be hard! Toomb: Thousand Fell keeps environmental responsibility at the root of their business model. How do you stay socially responsible? C&S: Social responsibility includes keeping our factories in check. Making sure our factory employees have safe working conditions, lunch breaks, and fair wages. We visit our tier 1 factories—and our goal in 2020 is to start visiting our tier 2 factories. (Tier 1 factories are usually main suppliers, while tier 2,3, and 4 factories are smaller suppliers that supply/manufacture more key components). We conduct LCAs (life cycle analyses) to evaluate our factories and ensure sustainable and responsible practices. We want to know what our carbon footprint is across our entire supply chain. It’s expensive, but necessary.
Thousand Fell is a prime example of a fashion brand working hard to keep sustainability at the root of their business model. They have successfully adopted a closed loop supply chain: from beginning to end. Affordable (and sustainable) footwear for everyone! They ARE the future of footwear, and we should all be on board. STEP! IN!
*At no extra cost to you, I earn a small amount of commission when you purchase Thousand Fell shoes through my links! Affiliate links help me sustain my small business and show support to Moda Verde as a whole so I can keep delivering the best content for you :)