Footwear
Innovation

Leaving a Better Footprint

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Every year outsole abrasion contributes 8.5 billion metric tons of micro-plastics directly from our shoes and tires, into the ecosystem, with toxic residue ending up in the soil and the waterways from storm runoff, impacting plants and animals. What if, rather than harming the environment, an outsole material could be developed that was earth-friendly?

Thomas Bogle thought a lot about that question during lengthy trail runs along pristine landscapes. The answer he came up with is Solum, a new venture that is launching a bio-based, regenerative outsole material to address the global impacts of rubber abrasion.

Called BioTread, the material is made from recycled plant nutrients that are released from the shoe through wear abrasion and redeposited into the soil. In other words, a circular system that directly engages individuals in the process.

Bogle, like others, particularly within today’s textile industry, believes regenerative farming is a smarter way forward to advance sustainability agriculturally. “There is an abundance of waste, but also innovation found in re-discovering waste as a new resource,” explains Bogle. “With regenerative agriculture everything goes back to the soil. That is the key to Solum.”

• Rubber abrasion is a major form of microplastic emittance.

• Tires and shoes release an estimated 8.5 million metric tons of pollution every year.

• The toxic residues ends up in our soils and waterways damaging both pant and animal lifescycles.

He explains that outsole performance and strength are not sacrificed; the Solum technology relies on principles of biomimicry to naturally achieve durable functional properties. “The same biological nutrients that give trees and plants their strength and resiliency are also what reinforces Solum’s bio-tread material,” states Bogle, whose background is in footwear component technologies. “We didn’t need the synthetic additives, our technology is durable on its own.”  

The company has done lab testing with abrasion scores achieving industry standards. BioTread uniquely balances durability with wear, performing over time yet also doing what the technology is all about: giving back nutrients to the earth.

The Solum BioTread consists of a nutrient blend that includes Hevea tree sap, beeswax, and biogenic ash derived from crop waste discarded by farmers. This includes hemp from Colorado, corn and rice from Nebraska. Crop waste collection through manufacture is all done domestically.

Bogle admits USA-made is challenging. However, he is encouraged by trends pointing to onshoring, reshoring and more supply chain availability in the  U.S. “Transportation costs are going up, and there is a lot of supply chain uncertainty,” he says. “We are keeping our global footprint low. That is key.”

Strides in Circularity

Launched in June, Solum is four years in the making, with Bogle, a founding member, based in Bozeman, MT,  steering the technology. He clarifies that the company is not in the business of making shoes nor considered a shoe brand; The business model is based on the BioTread outsole technology. Bogle describes the company currently as a start up, post development, in the midst of introducing product to market. Customer feedback has been “warm, receptive and curious,” based on selling points emphasizing BioTread as 90 percent bio-based, 40 percent plant waste and 0 percent petroleum or plastic. Cost is “extremely competitive,” according to Bogle.

“The outsole is the only piece of the shoe making contact with the ground, and it is breaking down into micro plastics while running in a beautiful alpine setting.” – Thomas Bogle, Solum

A lack of innovation in outsoles sparked the idea for Solum. Bogle elaborates: “When I’m doing long trail runs there is a focus and intimacy with your shoes, and I’m aware of how the outsole is wearing down. The outsole is the only piece of the shoe making contact with the ground, and it is breaking down into micro plastics while running in a beautiful alpine setting.”

Creating a stronger connection between what individuals wear and the impact that has on the earth is a concept increasingly of interest to consumers, and a trend Bogle sees as working to Solum’s advantage. “We are giving people the power to do good for their surrounding environment merely by existing and moving around in it,” Bogle explains.

In the past decade sustainability efforts have changed significantly, having evolved from low-impact resource conservation to increased recycling and from bio-based innovation to regenerative methods helping to close the loop in a circular system. “Sustainability is ushering in a massive paradigm shift with materials and other goods that is becoming ingrained in our everyday approach to design and development of product,” says Bogle. Coupled with acceleration in the digital landscape, and continued acceptance of advanced manufacturing, the industry is at a tipping point. States Bogle, “Together, we are on the cusp of a 15 year landscape of change.” Solum’s goal is to be part of what’s coming next with the goal of reaching 40 million users by 2026, equating to 2 billion grams of nutrients deposited back into the ecosystem.

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