OrthoLite is helping to move footwear sustainability one step further.
The high-performance insole company is bringing the Eco Hybrid foam insole made with 15 percent production waste foam to market. The product, which debuted at the Materials Show last year, has since inspired a recycled foam insole made from 100 percent recycled materials, which the company is currently developing and testing.
“The Eco Hybrid foam will be coming out in a lot of fall products from our brand partners,” Dan Legor, director of marketing at OrthoLite said, adding that OrthoLite’s decision to add recycled foam offerings stems in part from customer demand. “You have to meet or succeed sustainability goals if you want to remain partners with brands, or build new relationships. That’s just the long and short of it today.”
The company works with more than 350 footwear brands, including Nike, Adidas, Clarks and L.L. Bean, as well as 62 new brand partners in 2018.
Also in response to consumer demand, OrthoLite constructed a new factory in Vietnam, which officially opened and began easing into production at the end of 2018, as the company transitioned production from its existing Vietnam factory.
“We took 60 days for a ‘soft launch,’ to use a restaurant analogy,” said Legor. “We’re operational now, and in 30 to 45 days we should be up to speed.” The new factory, Legor said, is specifically engineered to be environmentally friendly, with top-of-the-line equipment and facilities. The new factory also doubles OrthoLite’s production capacity in Vietnam.
The 100 percent recycled foam option is tentatively scheduled to launch in Spring 2020, Legor said. The company hinted at a 100 percent recycled foam product last year, and introduced a version of the 100 percent recycled foam that could serve as a base layer for a softer top foam. Now, the company is testing full insoles with the 100 percent recycled foam.
“We’re lucky because we’re vertically integrated,” he said. “We’re responsible for our own waste, which means we can decide where it goes and how we use it.” One of the biggest challenges in developing a 100 percent recycled product is adjusting the density, especially when production waste varies in hardness and texture. As a result, the company is creating four levels of hardness to give brands a range of densities to look for.
“When you’re choosing a product, you’re looking for a very specific feel underfoot,” Legor said. “This product has been years in the making.”
OrthoLite has always used 5 percent recycled rubber in its insoles. The company is implementing other sustainability practices into its production methods, including steering away from screen printing toward a pad printing method. The change saves in vellum waste generated in the screen printing process and is also more efficient, with less energy consumption.
The company has a dedicated research and development facility in China that will shape upcoming sustainability strategies, including efforts to improve waste recapture and eventually to have a zero-waste production process.
“We’ve been on this path to sustainability since the day we started,” Legor said. “Today, brands are looking for us to provide solutions on a much bigger scale.”