How a ‘Balifornian’ company is transforming discarded tires into soles with soul
By Damon Orion
When documentaries of the future look back on the year 2016, they will surely include mentions of the Zika virus. Even in a year filled with far graver threats, all those Zika warnings flittering across our TV screens and buzzing in our ears managed to give the American populace a good scare.
Less widely known is the fact that discarded tires have played an important part in the spreading of this virus. In tropical environments, scrap tires are a breeding ground for mosquitos that carry airborne diseases like Zika, malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever.
“You’re going to start to hear more and more on the radio and the news about why tires are a problem,” offers Kyle Parsons, CEO of the San Francisco-based shoe company Indosole.
According to Parsons, disease is just one of the difficulties that used tires can cause. “What a lot of people don’t know is that tires are actually the fourth-biggest environmental problem facing our planet,” he states, noting that each year, 1.5 billion tires are deposited in overcrowded landfills all over the world. Due to the buildup of chemicals like methane, tires that are stockpiled on top of each other can spontaneously combust. “It’s almost like a giant grease fire because of the chemical makeup of tires,” Parsons says. “Those fires are nearly impossible to put out.”
Whether caused by spontaneous combustion and lightning storms or deliberately started by humans, tire fires create toxic fumes and oils. The problem is exacerbated by the use of tires as a cheap fuel alternative in third-world countries.
Indosole is combating this by turning the rubber from scrap tires into shoe soles. Members of the Indosole staff collect used tires from mechanics, truck drivers and roadsides in Indonesia.
“It saves energy from them even reaching the landfill in the first place,” Parsons explains. “We cut them off at the pass, basically.” At this point, the company has made shoes and sandals from more than 60,000 tires that would have gone into landfills. This could also be helpful in reducing the risk of Zika in Bali: in mid-2016, doctors warned that the disease had spread to the Southeast Asian nation, urging pregnant women not to travel there.
After cutting the sidewalls off the tires, Indosole employees wash and sanitize the rubber and then cut shoe soles out of the sidewalls. Once trimmed and beveled, the soles are attached to the upper portions of the shoes, which are made from natural materials like banana leaves, grass and organic canvas.
“The tires make a great sole for a shoe,” Parsons notes. “They last a long time, and they can really take a beating. You can do anything in our shoes—skateboard, ride bikes—and they withstand the test longer than a synthetic sole.”
Indosole, whose sales come primarily from California and Bali (“We call it Balifornia,” Parsons jokes), hopes to set an example for businesses and individuals interested in promoting sustainability by repurposing materials. “We should all be looking at the things we use and the waste we create in a different light,” Parsons offers. “If you look at a tire, you probably don’t immediately see a pair of shoes, but they’re in there somewhere. You can look at a baseball bat, and you don’t necessarily see a pair of sunglasses in there, but there are companies making sunglasses out of baseball bats.” He adds that various other companies are making board shorts of recycled plastic bottles or coconut husks.
“It’s just all about us being resourceful in our daily lives and minimizing the waste that we produce, but also doing it in a creative way,” he offers. “It’s more fun and more challenging than just going out and buying fast fashion or buying plastic water bottles—bring your own water bottle, use that to fill up, put a cool sticker on it, and then it’s got more meaning to you; it becomes a part of you. It’s got soul.”
Indosole shoes can be found locally at Berdel’s Skate Shop and Pacific Wave Surf Shop. Learn more at indosole.com