Last summer, shortly after launching Two Birds Apparel in Toronto, we travelled out to Vancouver (where we now call home) to promote our brand at a sustainable living show called Epic Fest. We had a great time at the event, and met lots of interesting people and other companies with sustainable business models. The company in the booth next to us was Cocoze – a company with a unique and innovative idea to use coconut fibre as shoe soles for a line of men and women’s sandals. You may have seen them on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, where they have appeared twice.
Cocoze launched a Kickstarter campaign today for their new model, the Coco-Flop. This is one of the most sustainable shoes I have ever seen. I had a chance to ask Wayne Seto, Cocoze Managing Partner, about the company and their plans with this campaign.
Why did you and the Cocoze team decide to make shoes out of coconuts?
To be honest, the idea for a coconut fiber shoe happened purely by accident. The idea was born in the backwoods wilderness of Nelson, British Columbia (Canada). Pierre (company founder) was living there about 3 years ago and was using coconut fiber as a growing medium for his home garden. Coconut fiber is used in the agricultural sector for its natural qualities such as being antibacterial, antifungal and having a neutral ph level. Also, coconut fiber has a natural rooting hormone that helps build soil and help your garden grow. During this time, Pierre got very interested in working with coconut fiber and started making other things with the fiber such as coffee cup sleeves, dish scrubbies and bath mats. One day, he happened to be standing bare feet on a sheet of coconut fiber and liked the way it felt. Cocoze Shoes was born from that very moment. The invention of the coconut fiber shoe was a bit of luck crossing over with a bit of inspiration at the right time.
Originally, Pierre was just making a few pairs at a time in the basement of his home. The response was overwhelming. People were offering to help for free, just to be a part of something new and innovative like this. It was at that point that Pierre and the early members of the Cocoze team realized that this shoe had to be shared with the rest of the world.
What has been the biggest challenge in creating a shoe made out of coconut fibre?
Coconut fiber has never been used like this in the footwear industry. All our shoes are base upon our patent pending sole that is made of coconut fiber with any binding agent. In our case we use natural rubber as the binding agent. The natural characteristics of coconut fiber (varying densities, high tensile strength) don't lend themselves to the use of conventional shoe making methods. The biggest challenge in making our shoes has been developing the most effective process of binding the natural rubber to the coconut fiber to give the sole maximum durability and comfort yet retaining the natural qualities of the coconut fiber on the foot bed itself. After 2 years of research and development, we have developed a manufacturing process that will address this issue.
Another major challenge has been how to produce the shoe with economies of scale so that we can meet growing demand while keeping the shoe in the most affordable consumer price point possible. Because our shoe can't be manufactured with conventional shoe making methods, all our shoes are all skillfully handcrafted. So, we had to come up with a manufacturing process that was simple and effective enough to produce the shoes with scale. I'm confident that we have done that and Cocoze is now ready to share this shoe with the rest of the world.
What are you doing differently with your shoes with this Kickstarter campaign?
With this Kickstarter campaign, we are making the tops (straps) of the shoe out of natural textiles – namely hemp, flax and organic cotton. Pairing a natural top with our coconut fiber sole will make this the world's first 100% natural and biodegradable shoe. Every component of the shoe is natural and biodegradable, even the shoe labels, which are made of coconut shells engraved with the brand logo on it. What's also different is that our manufacturing process uses no chemicals or toxins and is zero waste, whereby all trimmings and excess byproducts can be recycled back into the production process.
What can backers of your new campaign expect from their new coconut shoes?
Backers of our Kickstarter campaign can expect a shoe that is more durable, comfortable, sustainable and better looking than previous models. Yet, the shoe will maintain all the benefits that the coconut fiber naturally has to offer, like increased blood circulation in the feet and gentle exfoliation of the soles of your feet leaving them healthy and smooth (like having a pedicure while you walk). Backers can also take comfort that they are wearing the most eco-friendly shoe ever made.
At this point, the Cocoze team is completely focused on the Kickstarter campaign. We continue to build a following for our brand and shoes and are working on expanding our online business. We have a few boutique retailers carrying Cocoze right now and will look at building our retail component further on down the road. Still being a relatively new company, our main focus is to get our shoes and our story out in front of the world.
Check out the Cocoze Kickstarter campaign here.