Why make shoes out of recycled sex toys? The better question—and the question David Teitelbaum asked himself when he toured the Doc Johnson adult novelty factory back in 2018 is: is why not?
“Hundreds of thousands of units are coming out of there every couple of days; it’s a multi-acre campus,” Teitelbaum said. “I saw they would take these toys that didn’t pass quality assurance—maybe pock marks or something wasn’t right—and grinding them up and put them in a barrel on the side.”
Teitelbaum, who was there representing his music/merchandise/brand-building company on an unrelated matter, then asked whether he could turn this rejected plastic pulp into shoes.
He was told no.
Then Covid came along and with some extra time on his hands, Teitelbaum designed a prototype for a shoe made from the plastics contained in those Doc Johnson barrels, re-pitched his plan and a beautiful collab between Teitelbaum’s Rose in Good Faith and one of the world’s biggest sex toy manufacturers was born.
“The whole shoe is molded, so we take this more sustainable, unbleached UV-A blend and mix it with pieces of unused sex toy,” Teitelbaum said. “They’re very TPE-heavy. The plastic on [non-sex] toys is brittle and firm but these are more malleable and soft. And, there’s a special grading they have to them because they have to go into a body, also.”
Somewhat similar to Yeezy Foam Runners in appearance, the “Plastic Soul” shoes, priced at $130 on roseingoodfaith.com, were anything but simple to take from barrel to marketplace.
“It was really complicated. Mixing the two materials doesn’t always go so well, but we found the right proprietary blend,” said Teitelbaum, who declined to reveal specifics about the Chinese manufacturer who produces the footwear. “[Doc Johnson makes] these giant fists and they have the right blend of TPE. There’s something about them where heating them up again, they stay stiff. If we took other toys, they’d get very floppy, so we decided to stick with the fists pretty much.”
That base is blended with EVA foam to create an injection mold that’s pressed and heated into a fully formed shoe with cork for the insole.
“There’s a raised arch in the shoe and the cork molds to your foot so it feels fantastic for 10, 15, 20 hours,” Teitelbaum said.
Teitelbaum said he recently returned from a trip to Japan and walked around endlessly in a pair of Plastic Souls.
“To clean ‘em, you just need a little water and they’re white all over again. They’re good for a lot of day activities, but there’s a couple new audiences,” Teitelbaum said. “One is a guy who owned a lot of gas stations bought them for his employees standing on their feet every day and another was a gym owner who got them for all of his powerlifting friends. Those, and older lesbian couple who bought it for themselves, are the three big groups that have bought the shoe.”
As a matter of sustainability, Teitelbaum is glad to do his part by saving assembly-line rejects from the landfill, but his greater mission, he feels, is to lighten the mood some.
“The ex-CEO from Everlane and I were speaking for a while and one thing he noticed was that this sustainability space is just so granola-crunchy,” Teitelbaum said. “Nobody’s coming in saying, ‘let’s do it in a funny, playful way.’”
Teitelbaum is off and running with his new mission. The slogan for the Plastic Souls campaign is “Stop F*cking Mother Nature” and up next, he says, travels the same road.
“The shoe is about sustainability, but not so serious; be playful,” Teitelbaum said. “Everything about sustainability, from my viewpoint, is so in your face.”
Teitelbaum said that apart from adding some good humor to the sustainability conversation, satisfied customers find the shoes to be great conversation-starters and icebreakers.
“It’s a massively flooded market—everyone has a T-shirt; everyone has a hoodie, so the next level for us is to break out and make products that serve very emotional nuances,” he said. “Whenever someone has a shoe out in the public, they get to say, ‘oh, it’s made of unused sex toys.’ The virality of it is so fantastic.”
Teitelbaum said wearing the shoes in the professional world has been useful to him, personally.
“It’s a great equalizer,” he said. “Usually if I’m in a meeting with [venture capitalists] or some larger business meetings, it’s a great equalizer to see are they cool or not? Is this uncomfortable for them?”
The response to the shoes has been so positive that Teitelbaum plans to make them an evergreen product and expand partnerships to other sex toy makers, all this in addition to the opening of the maiden Rose in Good Faith shop and secret bar in Los Angeles, held up so far by liquor license hangups.
While that red tape untangles itself, Rose in Good Faith will go live in brick-and-mortar with a coffee shop storefront.