Environment

Native Shoes: The recyclable shoe for “Generation Do”

Vancouver-based Native Shoes is exploring innovative ways to reduce its footprint

  • Jul 15, 2022
  • 676 words
  • 3 minutes
The new Robbie by Vancouver-based Native Shoes is made from a sugarcane-based EVA material that produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and can be recycled through Native’s Remix Project. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Can Geo)
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They’ve gone for a dip in the Rideau River, splashed through puddles at the splash pad, and climbed to the very top of the tallest structure at the playground — and that’s just Saturday morning.

The moment the weather warmed up in Ottawa, the new Robbie from Vancouver-based Native Shoes became my go-to shoe for my nearly two-year-old son, taking him effortlessly from daycare to the park to all manner of weekend adventures. My pale pink Jeffersons, also from Native Shoes, have matched him step for step.

Made of durable, ultralight EVA material, Native Shoes are purpose-built for fun in and around the water. They slip on and off, are easily cleaned with soap and water, and the material has some odor-resistant properties — a definite plus on the hottest days of summer. Best of all, if my son manages to completely wreck his pair between now and when he outgrows them, they can still have a second life through Native Shoes’ Remix Project, which recycles the shoes into flooring for playgrounds.

Marcus is wearing the Robbie in Victoria Blue; Alexandra is wearing the Jefferson Bloom in Chameleon Pink. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Can Geo)
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Kyle Housman, CEO of Native Shoes, says one of the company’s core values is to “ask more what-ifs,” which is how the Remix Project was born. In 2017, an employee who had seen a YouTube video about EVA recycling asked one of the company’s founders for a grant to build a machine to grind up old shoes. It turns out the soft, rubbery material, when finely ground, can be repurposed into insulation, flooring, even furniture.

“We pulled the whole company together to come up with ideas for what we could do with [the ground-up material], but playgrounds really resonated in the sense of completing the loop with our young customers and creating a bigger conversation of what happens at the end of a product’s life,” Housman explains.

The Robbie‘s sugarcane-based EVA material is super lightweight, durable and easily cleaned after a day of summer fun. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Can Geo)
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Partnering with B.C.-based Marathon Surfaces, Native Shoes has recycled some 40,000 pairs of shoes into flooring for five playgrounds across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland since 2018, and are currently working toward a sixth. Housman says currently only a small proportion of Native’s shoes are returned for recycling — mostly via the brand’s two stores in Vancouver and Nantucket, Mass. — but the company is working with Canada Post and U.S.-based online shoe retailer Zappos.com to make it easier for customers outside those areas to remix their worn-out shoes.

“Remix is our way of demonstrating that there’s a solution to [clothing waste],” says Housman. “When our kids haven’t dragged their toes every single time they ride a bike, the shoes are cleanable and can be passed on to another child, and we really encourage people to pay it forward. But in the case where they are not re-giftable, then Remix comes in. Our shoes don’t have to end up in the landfill.”

Inspired by what it calls “Generation Do” — the current generation of kids who are growing up with an awareness of social and environmental issues and a desire to make a positive impact in the world — Native Shoes is also experimenting with ways to reduce the carbon footprint of its shoes on the production side. The Jefferson Bloom is a more sustainable model of the brand’s tried-and-true bestseller, made with an algae-blended resin, while the Robbie is made with Sugarlite, a sugarcane-based compound that generates about 22 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional EVA. (The Jefferson is also available in Sugarlite for those who like the vintage sneaker-inspired look.)

“We talk about practicing tiny activism – recognizing that all of the decisions we make, no matter how small, add up,” says Housman. “Generation Do is about celebrating our kids who are already making those decisions.”

The Robbie Sugarlite retails for CAD$52-58 and is available in children’s and youth sizes. The Jefferson Bloom retails for CAD$70 (adult sizes) or CAD$55-60 (children’s and youth sizes).  

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