From tire waste to an internationally-renowned footwear brand, Kyle Parsons shares the story behind his Bali-born Good Business, Indosole.
Environmentally-damaging waste is a worldwide problem, but there’s nowhere quite as confronting as here in Indonesia. You’ll spot trash covering the beach, village fires burning piles of plastic, and don’t even get us started on the illegal dumping sites, including rivers and waterways. Well, that’s where Indosole steps in. This Bali-born brand is on a mission to save the planet one sandal at a time, born from the increasing environmental destruction that Indonesia’s landfills cause, specifically the stockyards where tires are illicitly burned.
In addition to a sandal brand, we think of ourselves primarily as a solutions company.
Kyle Parsons, founder of Indosole, came up with a solution to this issue. Using Indosole’s Sole Engineered Tire Technology, Kyle and his team have managed to turn tire waste into highly durable soles for sandals that you can wear for many years to come. Not only do they create awesome footwear, they save and upcycle these tyres that would otherwise be burned into toxic fumes.
Launchpad and Honeycombers founder, Chris Edwards, sat down with Kyle Parsons on an episode of the Good Business podcast by Launchpad to learn more about the inspiring journey of Indosole. Here’s the lowdown on what they discussed…
Tell us the story behind how Indosole started…
I grew up with a curiosity of Bali and always dreamed of being able to visit one day. I finally got my shot in 2004, and I was captivated by everything – the beaches, the culture, the food… One day, as I was walking down the sidewalk in Seminyak, the sandals that I was wearing at the time blew out! I was barefoot on the sidewalk and needed to find a solution. I wanted a new pair of sandals that’s different from all the big brands out there. Then I found a pair of sandals that had a natural weave on top and a tire on the sole. It was a raw cut tire that came from a motorbike!
So I wore them and brought them back to California at the end of my trip. I started doing some research about tire pollution and I found that it’s actually a big problem that not a lot of people know about. Each year, billions of tires are either in the landfills, clogging the rivers or polluting the land. So I was intrigued by this pair of sandals that ended up being the catalyst for Indosole. We started out with 40 artisans, hand making 15,000 to 20,000 pairs of sandals a year, to having manufacturing facilities that produce 10,000 pairs a day. We rebranded in 2018, and it hasn’t really changed since.
We’re environmentalists first, and business people second.
Fast-forward to these past couple of years, how has the business evolved post-pandemic?
Indosole as a brand, we do things, what we would consider, the right way – it may not always be streamlined and profitable right off the bat. As a B-Corp certified business, we’re used to using pre-qualified materials that are natural and good for the environment. So I won’t lie to you, when the pandemic hit, we were already on shaky grounds.
We had some major retailers, but when everything shut down, we were told not to ship the order. And so it was tough, but what we always say about the pandemic times is that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! We were able to take that time and put all of our attention to the web and telling authentic stories, as well as helping those struggling from the pandemic.
Kudos for surviving the dark times! Now onto the business part, tell us about how Indosole is operating.
As far as breaking it down, we operate in the USA, Indonesia, various other countries as well as through the web, with our strongest markets being North America and Bali, where a lot of the people are into environmental causes. Over on the California side, you can find us on Maidwell, which is a J. Crew-owned retailer, and Urban Outfitters. We’ve established a good crew in Australia and some major retailers like the iconic General Pants, and we’re slowly moving outward to Europe. We also have distributors in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Africa, and the Middle East. Since wholesales came back, we’re all about supporting the smaller shops and getting back in the independent retailers. In Bali, we work with Yoga Barn, and lots of other surf shops, as well as in Lombok and a few retailers in Java.
As a small brand, the power is in partnerships.
Over the years, we’ve had retailers that have stuck with us, and we try to do a collaboration with a different brand that shares the same vision or an eye towards sustainability. We have some Indonesian collaboration partners too, as we believe that it’s actually more sustainable or economically healthy to partner up with people that are working on the same mission, rather than to compete with them. So you don’t need to rebuild all these resources that already exist. While we’re not big in volume, we’re chipping away and we’ve found that our customers like the sandals and resonate with our stories and values.
A typical habit of eco-conscious consumers is to find the brands they really like, that fits well, and is going to be durable. So they’re going to stick with them.
And at your TEDx talk, you spoke about redesigning your consumer habits. Can you share a bit more about that?
Absolutely, TEDx was a wonderful experience. I’ll start with B-Corp, B-Corp as an incentive and a certification that’s so important to Indosole, as well as the industry where the bar needs to be raised. B-Corp really tests each one of us as companies to make sure we are doing what we say we’re doing. We’ve also joined with 1% for the planet, and we really like what they have to offer from a giving back and social mission standpoint.
And clearly, we chose a category which is quite saturated and we don’t have nearly the marketing dollars that these big companies have. So what we promote is a truly authentic story with transparency in what we’re doing. We like to show how we pulverise the tires, the materials we use and the screening process they go through.
What we promote is a truly authentic story.
So where do you see Indosole in 10 years?
In addition to a sandal brand we think of ourselves primarily as a solutions company. So our job is to sell sandals but even more so, creating a mindset or contributing towards a consumer’s mindset of shopping more consciously. So the sandal is a sexy product that we founded the idea on but now it’s our mission to carry it on to other products and solutions.
We’ve started pulverising down parts of defective sneakers which would have been a waste from major factories in Indonesia. What’s exciting is we can add colour using a natural dye, and we can have coloured soles in addition to the black soles from the tires. We’re also making bar mats for bars and restaurants that are all made of recycled tires, or recycled sneaker parts. And then that’s custom branded, so we’re just dipping into the consumer goods space at a commercial level.
Do you have any business advice or a business mantra that you live by?
My personal mantra is to be watchful, because the things around you can always be reused into something else.
If there was another industry that you could disrupt, what would it be?
I would say restaurants and hotels, or a high power company and maybe a tire company. Taking this technology that we’ve created and doing something really radical and impactful.
Lastly, at Launchpad we believe that a rising tide floats all boats. So if you had to recommend someone to come on this podcast, who would it be?
I would recommend the crew over at Sungai Watch in Bali. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re doing some incredible work and in just three or four years of operation! They employ hundreds of Indonesians and literally go into the rivers, clean the trash out, and unblock and prevent all this trash from ending up in the ocean. And as a next level to that, in the same mentality of what Indosole does, they’re able to process it and turn it into functional goods.
And if I can throw one more in there, this is one of our new partners for collaboration called Pable. They’re taking somebody’s old t-shirt and breaking it down and then rebuilding it into threads. So we have a new collection with them, we’re calling it revolutionising footwear and it’s really special stuff.
Want to listen to the whole interview and get to know more about Indosole? Tune in to Episode 22 of the Good Business podcast by Launchpad.