Sustainability covers a lot of areas and can be approached in as many ways, but making earth positive products that ultimately improve the health of people and the planet is our main goal at Vivo. After years of shoemaking, we came to realise that ‘sustainable shoemaking is barefoot shoemaking’.
Simply put, this means we are in the business of making shoes with an as little ‘shoe’ as possible. We believe in minimal shoes that let your feet do what they were designed to do and that this isn’t just good for you; it’s better for the planet too. For example, the average trainer is 270grms and the Primus Lite is 240 grms, so that’s over 10% less material before you start to look at how it's made and what it's made from. With this minimalism as a foundation, it’s easier to start looking at ways of improving a product's durability or performance.
Even though our approach to sustainability is about more than just materials, they have a big impact on the lifecycle of a shoe, and the more material alternatives we can develop that deliver high performance with a softer touch on the planet, the better. Ultimately this is a journey that we are heavily committed to and invested in, but like the rest of the industry we have a long way to go. Our journey with bio based materials started back in 2017, in partnership with BLOOM, with the Ultra, which was the first moulded shoe made using an Algae based foam.
As a result of this we started to think about how we might be able to make a shoe like the Primus, made up of multiple materials. But could we get the same high performance from plant based alternatives? The idea of using less petrol and more plants became a really exciting one, and while we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, or perfect, we felt strongly that this was a big part of our future, and hoped that if we could pull it off it would be an inspiring first step for our business, and the footwear industry at large.
Around February 2018 we became aware of an exciting plant based, and very high performance, TPU polymer called Susterra. Susterra propanediol is made out of industrial field corn and uses 52% less energy than the standard petroleum based materials used by the global footwear industry, resulting in 32% less greenhouse gas emissions. We were excited to begin working with DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products to fast track trials with our component suppliers, to try and make this project a reality. This required us and our partners to devise new techniques while using unfamiliar material, so of course we encountered every problem imaginable! This meant lots of trial and error and plenty of back and forth between the incredibly smart chaps from the DuPont lab and the untiring Vivobarefoot development team in Asia.
As always, a healthy balance of ignorance and determination can get you a long way and we quickly started to make progress. It became clear to us that this combination of materials was just better for the planet, as well as being incredibly high performing and durable stuff!
By November 2018 we had managed to develop and test the Primus Bio, and it was ready for presentation to the outdoor industry at Outdoor Retailer in Denver. The final shoe was a powerful mix of bio based materials including Susterra, Sorona, bloom and natural rubber. Reducing parts and processes gave us a shoe that uses over 10% less material than your average sneaker and is made from over 30% bio based materials. This represents an exciting reduction in reliance on petrochemicals, while offering a product which maintains amazing levels of performance and durability. This process was often really challenging but represents an exciting direction for the future of sustainable materials, and new opportunities they bring to us in the footwear industry.
This is just the beginning; there is lots more to come from us as we chase the ultimate product goal of complete circularity!