ALL Ways: The Footwear Brand SAOLA Honors the Company Mascot with Conversation and Sustainability Initiatives

by S. Creastam

Saola

Our story today begins with a tale of a rare breed. Seriously, there’s an entire shoe brand named after an increasingly rare animal. In 1992, a goatish deer-like creature named “saola” was discovered. The breed lives in the mountains between Vietnam and Laos, reflecting the reason the animal is sometimes referred to as the “Asian unicorn”. Now listed on the critically endangered species list, a population of around 300 of this rare animal is left.

A social entrepreneur viewed the story of the saola as “both an inspirational story of hope and as a grave reminder of the fragile state of our eco-system.” With fondness, the social entrepreneur founded a sustainable shoe brand in honor of the “bi-horned wonder” to contribute to positive environmental impact and conservation efforts.

In this series, called ALL Ways, we’ll grow to know social enterprises by their charming points. We say “charming” to refer to branding and approaches that help us see another way to manage social entrepreneurship. We’ll also suggest ways to interact or use these charming points in our own involvements with social enterprise (personally and professionally).

This post is an outside observation of a company for inspiration in social enterprise interaction and engagement.

In today’s post, we look into the wild SAOLA styling environmentalist with fashionable footwear. SAOLA is a shoe brand crafting sneakers and flats for comfort, usability, and sustainability.

Knowing the Company

Guillaume Linossier is the founder of SAOLA with two main missions of eco-design and wildlife conservation. He is a strong advocate of the environment and the relationship of the environment with animal ecosystems. Currently, the textile industry is one of the world’s largest polluters, so Guillaume founded SAOLA to push his efforts in that direction. Starting the initiative was more so to buffer the negative impact that took place over the years, rather than forcing pressure for a final solution. The initiative states the following about negative impacts on the environment: “SAOLA cannot stop the process but can nevertheless help to slow it down. We at SAOLA believe that with collective and concrete actions we can make a difference.”

Approximately 60-70% of the carbon footprint resulting from a pair of shoes is created by the materials and production. This initiative changes that outcome by utilizing recycled and bio-based materials in an environmentally-driven, optimized version of the production process. On the Production page, the company walks readers through the story of how they developed their production. Information on the page contains slightly more detail than typically given in transparent companies, and can inspire social entrepreneurs about what to do if facing a similar journey.

What Surprised Us

Production of footwear for SAOLA emphasizes stylish shoes that are comfortable enough to be a staple part of daily wardrobe, and innovative to the point that people almost forget the shoes include recycled materials. People can keep comfort and style as their top criteria while prioritizing sustainability. The shoes are not fully natural but are as natural as possible. SAOLA is making small steps to continually transition to a better process.

If consumers want to know about the process behind the production, there is a Sustainable Manufacturing page on the company’s official website that breaks down the major materials used to create the shoes. Each material is given a description, a blurb explaining reasoning for the relation to impact, and why that particular material was chosen. SAOLA even goes as far as sharing which part of the shoe is created by which material. Current eco-materials used in SAOLA’s production include recycled plastic bottles (PET), recycled Algae foam, organic cotton, and natural cork.

Most pairs of shoes in the SAOLA catalog contain between 3 and 7 recycled plastic bottles. On the Sustainable Manufacturing page, the company boasts that their PET supplier holds a “Recycled Global Standard” certification that ensures the traceability of the production line of these materials. In another partnership, SAOLA works with a company that specializes in harvesting algae to a more eco-friendly material. Bloom Materials is responsible for producing an algae foam for the insoles and outsoles of SAOLA shoes.

For quick context, the algae are dried as a powder, then mixed with EVA (a synthetic material). Foam made from EVA is considered an eco-friendly alternative to PVC foams since it is BPA free (free of Bisphenol A), and absent of chlorides, heavy metals, phenols, latex, and other toxic substances. EVA foam can also be recycled and processed as a “renewable” EVA foam.

What is the benefit for good

As mentioned before, SAOLA is heavily involved in social impact related to the environment and conservation. This manifests as the company dedicating SAOLA shoe sales towards supporting projects connected to these causes. Funds are split as 1% to the organization 1% for the Planet, and another 1% goes to the Mwalua Wildlife Trust.

Among the impact through shoes and monetary support, SAOLA is very encouraging with the words they use while communicating with consumers.

On the homepage they relieve the pressure of feeling like buying shoes is not enough impact:

“Will they solve all the world’s problems? Nope. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

Looking at the Wildlife Conversation page about sustainability initiatives, they reiterate that feeling:

“Make a real impact, however small. It is with the accumulation of individual actions that we can tip the scales.”

Probably the favorite, SAOLA’s FAQ page shows that they don’t bash anyone for an innocent question:

“Do shoes made from recycled plastic bottles feel like walking on plastic?

Bless your heart. No. You wouldn’t even know they were recycled had we not told you. Our goal is to make recycled as comfortable and cool as the shoes you’ve known your whole life!”

SAOLA has tons of small pieces of copy reinforcing and normalizing the idea of making an impact no matter how small it may seem, and not disowning the bit of ignorance in the early stages of getting familiar with something new.

What’s Next

We like to encourage actively participating with positive initiatives. Each person making their own choice to participate adds up! Whether you engage for fun, inspiration, or expression, here are our suggestions for engaging this initiative:

(Personal)

– Read more about the Mwalua Wildlife Trust founded by Patrick Kilonzo in Kenya.

– Grab a new pair of kicks at SAOLA official site.

(Professional)

– Find one task, action, or item in your social enterprise that could be more eco-conscious.

– Take a peak at this post on SAOLA’s blog about recycling, downcycling, and upcyclying.

People Helping People Podcast is seeking  methods clearly supporting an effective impact. Observations and discussions on happenings in the social enterprise community is a significant part of our contribution to social good. Continue to check-in for more conversation-starting content.

Relevant podcast episodes:

Dr. Lynda Ulrich of Ever Widening Circles Shares the Four Shifts for a New World

3 Tree Shares Easy Habits to Save the Planet

GoodFind’s Nohelia Rambal Talks About the Ripple Effect of Small Commitments

Relevant blog posts:

Feeling Unmotivated? Here are 8 Self-care Tips to Regain Your Motivation Now

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