Going Green With Simple Shoes

With SURFING’s annual Green Issue about to hit newsstands, we thought it would be appropriate to hit up a few industry folks about their efforts to help make the world a greener place to live.First on our list; Simple Shoes. Simple was one of the first companies to look into alternative forms of manufacturing their products in order to provide a more “green” alternative to conventional shoes. With the Green Toe project, they have found sustainable materials that are sustainable like jute and crepe.We sat down with Simple’s Greg Neilsen and got the lowdown on Simple and their products:SURFING: Simple took a green approach before it really became the cool thing to do. What originally inspired this approach?Greg Neilsen: It might sound clich, but really we thought it was the right thing to do. Simple has always been about doing things our own way. Our founder Eric was sick of all the over-hyped, over-tech’d and over-marketing sneakers in the market. In 2004, we thought about what industry needed to do. The {{{Toyota Prius}}} was still strange looking to most, Whole Foods was still a niche grocery store, and nobody had heard of An Inconvenient Truth. We looked at footwear and thought about all the waste we produced in our industry. So we re-thought the way shoes were made from the inside out by using sustainable materials and better packaging. We came up with the idea of Green Toe, which initially was only two styles – the Loaf (slip on) and Shuf (felted wool clog). Originally Green Toe was all natural materials, but we got so involved in the idea of sustainability that we decided to make it a driving force for the entire brand.We came up with good, better, and best measurables of sustainability in our product line – after all, we wanted to show how we were committed to making our products {{{100}}}% sustainable. So all of our products have some aspect of sustainability, which we will improve. Green Toe is considered our best effort.Since the “green” approach has seemingly taken off like wildfire within the action sports and surf industry, is there anything that Simple does in order to stay ahead of the curve?That is true that many in the action sports industry are embracing green, which we at Simple are very happy to see. Eventually this green wave will calm and there will be a new minimum standard of green expected. So we'll keep making better and better products – both with sustainable innovation and in style and comfort.We will maintain our relationship with the consumer through our commitment to making our products 100% sustainable. Every season the consumer will see more and more sustainable improvements.

Obviously just using leather is incredibly easy, but some of your shoe designs seem to go the extra mile to not usevthat method or at least provide an alternative. How much more difficult is this?Some of our products are vegan by definition, but we are really about finding sustainable materials over anything else. Some other footwear brands use animal-free alternatives, but those are made with plastics and other synthetics.Used tires as outsoles – not an idea exclusive to Simple, yet very unique. What goes into these shoes as far as making everything come together? Obviously, you can’t just cut out a size 10 from a steel-belted radial – can you? Oh man, we can make 6 mens size 9 outsoles out of one car tire. Mileage – still tracking!With the use of alternative materials such as cork, jute, and crepe, have you found any difficulties associated with being the first to use these materials?It really depends. We have gone through a lot of trial and error to get to where we are at. Being the first in footwear to be using these materials means we bear the brunt of the expenses with research and development. The other guys can follow, learn from our mistakes. Also, the more that purchase the raw materials the more affordable it becomes.Simple is an active sponsor / participant in International Surfing Day, are there any other environmental causes that Simple supports?We are very much involved with Jack Johnson's Kokua Hawaii Foundation (www.kokuahawaiifoundation.org), who bring environmental education to the schools of Hawaii. When you live on an island, you are the first to feel the effects of the plight of the environment. We sponsor the Kokua Festival (www.kokuafestival.com), and were invited by Jack Johnson to be sponsor because of our commitment to sustainability as a company. We also made a special edition of our Toe Foo for the 2007 Kokua Festival – check it out We have also supported local Santa Barbara groups including Heal the Ocean (www.healtheocean.org) through the Solutions for Dreamers Festival (www.solutionsfordreamersfestival.com), and the Save Naples Coalition (www.savenaples.org).What does the staff at Simple personally do on a daily basis to make less of an environmental impact? Recycling? Carpool? Group showers?Oh lots nowadays. We brought in recycling to our offices a while back (how could we not when {{{80}}}% of office waste is recyclable), battery recycling, "waste-free" company events, biodegradable cleaners, box re-using program, etc. Some of us ride our bikes a few times a week – when we don't have flat tires like I did today.

A couple of us bought {{{hybrids}}} in the last year. We want to show the world that we are committed to this efforts so we have a section our website called ecoETHICS – www.simpleshoes.com/About/ecoETHICSBe sure to visit www.SimpleShoes.com to get a look at all of Simple’s products and find out more about their green efforts.