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Hong Kong Startup Turns to One of the World’s Oldest Shoes for Inspiration

After observing the footwear industry’s reliance on low-quality, high-volume production over his 10 years in the industry, Ben Hui became interested in creating a sneaker that met consumer needs, but also “ticked the boxes when it comes to its eco-footprint.”

A shoemaker by heritage—Hui’s grandfather opened one of Hong Kong’s first shoe factories in the 1950s—he has gotten the chance to create that “ultimate sneaker.” Just six hours after launching his vegan, sockless footwear on Kickstarter last week, Hui’s project met its funding goal.

“Shoe brands across the world are turning to sustainable materials, but misusing them for the purpose of marketing, whereas Lono is maximizing the potential and properties of these organic materials and translating them into shoes with remarkable functionality,” Hui said in a statement.

Inspired by some of the first known human shoes, sagebrush bark sandals, the startup used tree bark-derived yarn to create the Lono sneaker’s zero-waste upper. According to the shoe’s Kickstarter page, the resulting material not only dries three times faster than merino wool, but also prevents foul smells from developing afterwards, thanks to the tree fiber’s anti-bacterial power.

Lonowear, the startup behind the Lono sneaker, has taken several other steps to reduce environmental impact. The sneaker’s outsole substitutes algae for plastic, thanks to a partnership with performance-focused materials manufacturer Bloom. Inside the shoe, plant-based oil replaces crude oil, the main ingredient found in typical EVA insoles. When it ships, the Lono sneaker will arrive in an “all-natural shoe pouch,” minimizing its carbon footprint from transportation courtesy of a smaller carton.

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Beyond sustainability, the shoe’s other main selling point is convenience. Described as “the ultimate casual shoe,” Lono sneakers are meant to be worn sockless. Aside from its breathable upper, the shoe offers several features to protect the wearer’s feet, including a soft bamboo lining, extra padding behind the heel and a fitted design along the back to minimize friction. For those who still prefer socks, Lonowear offers the “Solesock,” a sock for the insole designed to be swapped out and cleaned.

“Lono is the perfect ‘pre-game’ shoe,” Hui added. “Take it easy with Lono and wear them to take a walk or when the final destination—like yoga class or sports practice—requires a change in footwear.”

Lonowear acknowledged the benefits of being based out of Hong Kong. As an international city and a special administration of China, it said it can both communicate with international technology and sustainability communities and remain directly connected to the manufacturing hub in China, “drastically” increasing efficiency in development and production. By being able to visit the factory and work hand-in-hand with the workers there, Lonowear added, it can also “discover, challenge, and experiment new ways to do things better with a lower environmental impact.