Tags >> Manufacturing
Oct 15, 2010

Yoga Mat Flip-FlopThe core of making a flip-flop hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. The materials and design have been updated, but flip-flops are still for the most part made in the exact same way as they have been for a long time. Rightfully so, since the flip-flop is pretty much the most basic type of footwear in existence!

Flip-flops were one of the first types of footwear that innovators began experimenting with, flip-flops made from recycled automobile tires, flip-flops made from old carpet, and now flip-flops made from repurposed yoga mats!

Sep 21, 2010

Green America Approved BusinessLast week we at Common Soles learned that we have been accepted as an official green business by Green America! This means that the Common Soles product, business practices, and processes we employ have been audited by the Green America research team to ensure they meet the established criteria to deem us a green business!

The auditing/screening process checks that we:

Jul 19, 2010

We get lots of questions on how we maintain and ensure that our footwear factory overseas is providing a quality work environment for all employees. It’s a great question and we’ve written about such related practices previously here in the Sole Blog. But when trolling through some of these earlier posts I realized that we have not specifically laid out our criteria, findings, and notes in one clear and concise post. So here it is!

- Worker pay. The workers at Sarada Indistries, the factory we employ in Vijayawada, India, pays a fair wage to all workers well above the country base line for pay in this industry which I have to tell you is scary low. Unfortunately we do not have direct control over this as we do not own the factory. We have spent significant time there though, and in speaking with workers directly have learned that they are paid well and often it is the best paying job in the area for them!

- Worker conditions. After having spent significant time on the factory floor Rao and I can comfortably describe the factory as: Highly Functional. Much like you would expect a Toyota auto factory except WAY smaller and less high-tech. Everything and everybody has a specific purpose and process they follow. Defining functional means that adequate lighting and safety precautions are in place, each worker has a comfortable space to work within, a breeze and fresh air comes through large open windows, and ceiling fans provide a nice cooling effect in the warm South Indian climate. Hazardous materials are not used in the production of Common Soles footwear, in fact, our products are so simple that most materials and tools used to assemble them can be found in the typical homeowner's garage throughout the US.

May 24, 2010
Server FarmRao and I strongly believe that all businesses need to incorporate the consideration of environmental health into their business strategy and practices. We have made it a core tenant of the Common Soles business model from the beginning. Since making it public that we were going to be an environmentally conscious business we have made some significant headway. On a product side we have incorporated re-purposed materials into all our flip-flops. Components made from coconut shells and natural woven jute are prime examples. We also do not leverage heavy machinery in our manufacturing. All assembly is done by hand in the factories that make Common Soles. Cool!
Our day-to-day business practices are also an area we have brought in the green perspective. We print very little paper in our office, relying on electronic files for just about everything. We keep the windows open, and rely on natural light as much as possible. In fact, the only items using electricity at Common Soles this moment (4:14pm) are two laptops, a label printer, and a phone. Not much at all! But that is only part of the picture…
The truth of it all is that being a green business is kind of a complicated prospect. Being truly green would require us to not consume any resources at all. In the same time we would somehow be improving the environment all while still being a business and generating positive cash flow from operations.  Yah – that’s a challenge. Greening your business is tough. Just sending an email consumes resources, according to McAfee, email consumes an enormous amount of resource. Recently McAfee released a report called “The Carbon Footprint of Spam”. Some key findings were:
  • In 2008, 62 trillion spam emails were sent (wow!)
  • Spam emails used 33 billion kW/h in 2008 in order to be processed (that is equivalent to the energy use in 2.4 million homes for a year, or it is equivalent to using 2 billion gallons of gasoline)
  • Spam filtering is equivalent to taking 13 million cars off of the roads; one spam email requires the same amount of energy as driving 3 feet (the annual volume of email spam requires enough energy to drive around the earth 1.6 million times)
The primary reason for such high numbers is a result of the enormous amount of electricity data servers consume. Server farms are no joke. These super-rooms are highly climate controlled warehouses stacked with electricity gobbling servers humming along 24/7/365.
So how does that all compare at the end of the day with sending just 1 email from 1 person to another? Well, the report states that an email produces about 9 grams of CO2 per. Compare that to the 20-25 grams of CO2 for a traditional piece of mail sent via the postal service and yes – you do have a “greener” solution. But is it really greener?? I don’t know about you, but I get WAY more emails then I ever did regular mail. So when you add up all those emails – net loss. Bummer…
So the reality of being a truly green business is a bit bleak. The intention of this blog post isn’t to bum you out – just to share some of our findings in building out and researching how to make our business a greener entity.
So please, have at it in making your work-place a greener environment. Because even if we all just do a little, it adds up to a number that actually makes an impact. Below are some resources you may find helpful – we did.

StartupNation.com A basic guide titled “9 Steps to Greening your Business” 

Fast Company Some best practices and ideas shared in an article: “50 Ways to Green Your Business”

Apr 02, 2010

It’s spring time here in Boston, and we’re all out and about enjoying the sun, breeze, and adventure that comes with it. With that I’ve been having some great conversations with friends of mine on their favorite fashions this Spring. Fashions from brands that give a damn, and have built values based business models. Whether it’s incorporating organic and natural materials, giving back to the community, or leveraging responsible manufacturing processes. It’s all good!

(We'll get one out for the guys too.)

PACT Scales Boy Short ($22) 95% Organic Cotton + Give a good % back
NAU Dual Citizen Hoody ($150) Dual Layer Organic Cotton
PrAna Molly Denim Capri ($70) Organic Denim with Stretch
Common Soles Natya ($25) Responsibly Manufactured Flip-Flop (shameless plug..)
GoGaGa Messenger Bag ($118) Values based business that we dig!

Spring Time Goodies

Mar 12, 2010

Image from the Fair Labor Association website at fairlabor.orgThe Fair Labor Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending sweatshop conditions. We fully support this cause and organization. Being a supporter is one thing, truly understanding he benchmarks they have outlined that constitute good working conditions is slightly more complex. The FLA has assembled a 28 page document that outlines the benchmarks used to determine if a factory is providing good working conditions for their employees. Here’s a link to that .pdf 

These benchmarks cover all the basic elements such as wages, child labor restrictions, sanitary conditions, etc. What they do not cover are environmental practices in operations. We have discussed our efforts in that area in previous blog posts and will have even more on that topic in the future as it is a concern we also strongly believe in.

Feb 03, 2010

EVA foam sheets for use in footwear manufacturingEVA, (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) is some incredibly versatile stuff. It’s the elasticized polymer foam material used in most footwear to add support, structure, and cushioning. It’s incredibly versatile as it can be molded, dyed, cut, and shaped into just about any configuration. It’s incredibly inexpensive compared to the other materials used in footwear such as leather or rubber, and it’s darn easy to get good at working with it!

But it’s not all roses for this wonder material.  EVA doesn’t break-down naturally and so it’s filling landfills across the globe with a product that doesn’t jive with nature. The manufacturing of EVA is a toxic process, and even though EVA scraps and used EVA can be recycled into new EVA – it’s not at all a green process.

Dec 24, 2009

Here is an update on some of the materials and construction techniques we hope to be working into our line moving forward. This post is also essentially Part 3 of a series I am writing on sustainable footwear here on our blog. Enjoy!

Rice RubberRice Rubber Outsole: This stuff is amazing. The outsole is the very bottom of footwear, the part that connects with the ground. Most traditional outsoles are made from rubber or PU (polyurethane). Rice Rubber is a blend of several happier ingredients. It’s a base of natural latex rubber mixed with SBR or Styrene Butadiene Rubber. SBR has been used for over 60 years in all sorts of applications such as tires, shoes, and gaskets. The blend is necessary for durability and longevity (Remember – durable footwear has a longer useful life = fewer pairs need to be manufactured). Rice husks which are a byproduct of the food industry and typically discarded after harvesting are then mixed in with the rubber. The rice husks displace a good portion of the rubber needed as well as add strength to the mixture. Similar to how gravel is added to cement to form concrete. The resulting product is not only a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional rubber soles, but it looks darn cool!


Dec 03, 2009

We’re working hard on designing and manufacturing our footwear to be as sustainable as possible. What is sustainable in footwear though??  Sustainable footwear considers: raw materials, product design, manufacturing processes, end-of-useful-life policy, and a whole slew of other components. So many in fact that the only way a company can truly produce a pair of sustainably made footwear is to tackle one element of the process of achieving total sustainability at a time. We at Common Soles are currently focusing our efforts on materials and manufacturing processes right now.  That is not to say we aren’t doing all we can elsewhere in the sustainability value chain – this is just our area of focus at the moment.

I wrote a bit about materials on October 22nd of this year. This post is on process. The big one we can influence as a band in the US making footwear overseas is how our factory sources materials. Sourcing is a blend of art and science and is a constant battle of quality versus cost. Being who we are (a social venture) we lean toward quality whenever we have a choice. The difficulty we run into often times is that we are quite small in the world of footwear manufacturing and thus often have little say.  Not an excuse though…

Oct 22, 2009

Rao and I have literally scowered India for all and any eco-friendly materials to integrate in our forthcoming styles of flip-flops and footwear.  We met with dozens of vendors selling product that comes from all over India and Asia. The bummer part is they all smiled when we asked for eco-friendly materials and kindly shook there heads.  hmmm...  what to do as we were not going to give up that easily!

It turns out there are quite a few eco-friendly materials that we could easily integrate into our footwear.  They just hadn't been branded that way so nobody knew it, not even the vendors selling the goods.  Here's a sampling of what we found and plan to integrate into our next few styles.

Jute:  Jute is a vegetable fiber that grows all over India. In fact India harvests more than 2 million tons of jute every year which puts them in the lead for tonnage harvested in the world with the next country not even at half that.  Jute is better known as Burlap here in the US, so now you all know what I'm talking about.  Jute is 100% biodegradable and recyclable which makes us happy!  Look for jute in our straps and soles in the future.

Paper: Paper pulp is used to make card-stock. We use card-stock for the hang-tags and hangers for our flip-flops. Apparently almost all the paper pulp processed in India is post-consumer which is something they completely fail to mention!  It may be that post-consumer is perceived as a negative quality wise for the paper producers, but we see it as a positive!

Coconut: You all know the coconut. India harvests more than 9 million tons of it a year putting it at third in the world. The shell of coconuts can be cut and polished to produce a variety of materials which can be used in making a flip-flop. Coconut fiber is also used in several varieties of textile such as the popular Cocona material often used in sportswear.

While we were in India we took samples of the above materials and came up with a few prototypes that used as many eco-friendly materials as possible.  Here are some pictures of that prototype. It has a woven jute sole impregnated with natural rubber for durability and traction, coconut beads and hardware on the strap, and a woven jute insole on the footbed. Let us know what you think!


Oct 13, 2009

Meet the Maestri. He is the guru that figures out how to assemble the wacky product ideas we come up with.  Maestri does it with a cool head, steady hand, and incredible patience. It's amazing how he is able to take our garbled direction and actually produce a product that not only looks good, but fits!


Sep 29, 2009

I am enroute to India to meet up with Rao who has been hard at work over there on new product and initiaitves for Common Soles.  As a result we won't be posting any new blog entries until we return the week of Oct 11th. (I know, you'll miss us...)

The purpose of the trip is to get the next few styles and initiaitves dialed in. A women's flip-flop similar to the picture here, and a men's flop!  Each flop will be sold to generate funding to support an initiaitve relevant to the workers that made the flops. Most likely these initiatives will be education related.  The plan is to have these new styles available later this fall!  Wish us luck and please bear with us these next two weeks as Lisa is running the show here in the US by herself until Oct 11th.

Sep 14, 2009

We have our first batch of products shipped from India. We choose to airfreight them albeit it is much more expensive to do this way to save time. Needless to say we are very excited.  Also shipped with our products are silk packaging bags and promotional tags for our initiatives. 

Sep 11, 2009

Check out my amateur attempt at making a video on what goes into making a flip-flop!


Jul 31, 2009

I think these are really neat. These are the cutting dies used to cut the sole material for our flip-flops.  Cool huh?


Soles . . .

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