I knew a few people in college who didn't wear shoes. This was Bellingham, Washington--the days were typically gray, wet, and cold. I appreciated their idealism and understood their general opposition to leather and plastic and capitalism. But their choice wasn't exactly practical.
Saola's shoes are a far more reasonable alternative for standing on what you believe in. The upper canvas portion of the Semnoz is made entirely of recycled plastic bottles. The mesh above the toe has a 75/25 plastic bottle/poly mix construction, while the insole comes from recycled foam and the laces are organic cotton. (A shoe intended for women, the Iguazu, has a similar construction.)
Saola is the dream of Frenchman Guillaume Linossier, who saw a hole for responsibly made lifestyle shoes. The textile manufacturing industry is the world’s largest polluter after oil and gas. The company isn’t exclusively focused on profit. Saola will donate five percent of its sales to conservation projects.
"As a lover of the outdoors, I spent years struggling to find a brand of shoes for everyday life that matched my values," says Linossier. "There are plenty of cool looking shoes out there, but not very many from brands with a sustainability commitment. I felt that by manufacturing smarter and using our business to support conservation efforts, we could really make an impact."
Time for some real talk. No matter how free range something is, nobody is going to wear it if it isn't comfortable and stylish. The Semnoz looks great, with a muted charcoal color and a low profile. It was also noticeably light and comfortable when I tried them on. Their breathability would make them ideal for traveling and as a casual spring/summer shoe to wear around town. An inner cuff on the Semnoz hugs the ankle, so they’re still comfortable without socks.
The shoes will be in stores in spring 2018. In the meantime, a Kickstarter to help grow Saola runs May 23 to June 28. For $75, customers can get a pair of the Semnoz or Iguazu, two pairs of PACT organic socks, and encourage the company's growth. If they raise more than $25,000 in this initial run, Saola will expand their production.
A cynic on Facebook, without even reading this story, is probably already suggesting that we are all hypocrites unless, along with buying these shoes, we also give up our cars and our skis and our lunches and our lives. It’s a terrible, though frequently espoused argument in these conscientious times. Our footprint will never be zero. Still, by choosing companies like Saola, we’re supporting conservation projects and a more responsible consumerism, which is one small choice we can make to further reduce our inevitable impact.