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ShoeX breathes fresh air into circular economy

Embracing the circular economy and closed-loop designs are among the most effective ways to achieve business success while protecting the environment, according to Thanh Le, owner of shoemaker Veritas Bespoke.

A couple of months ago, the young businessman launched his recycled Captoe Oxford shoe brand ShoeX as his first foray into the concept of closed-loop design, whereby materials used in the products are infinitely recycled.
“When you open your wardrobe and see tens of pairs of shoes, you will ask yourselves about the special stories behind them,” Thanh said.

In September this year, Thanh won 4 billion VND (172,000 USD) from Shark Tank Vietnam for his application Scanfit; however, he decided to use the money on R&D for ShoeX after realising the app was not suitable for the Vietnamese market. Vietnam is facing serious environmental pollution, and given that the fashion industry as a whole produces 10 percent of all carbon emissions and pollutes the oceans with microplastics, the industry must take responsibility for the issue.
Besides, he was concerned about a lack of awareness of sustainable development, especially after visiting North America where he met a young boy who was able to tell what sustainability really is.

After looking at a wide range of approaches to develop products, he chose “making money while promoting sustainable development”, and the closed-loop ShoeX was born.

From waste to treasure

Being made from used coffee granules and plastic cups, ShoeX is truly a vegan pair of shoes.

“The process of making shoes starts with collecting old coffee from coffee chains around Ho Chi Minh City. The soles of the shoes are made using 150 grammes of coffee grind and 12 plastic cups, and the process is all done here. Meanwhile, we are importing coffee yarn from China’s Taiwan to make the bodies of the shoes,” Thanh said.

Thanh is planning to purchase around 4 tonnes of coffee each year to make ShoeX soles.

Regarding functionality, Thanh said the shoes have a waterproof membrane together with coffee fabric insoles which ensure people’s feet stay dry in any conditions. The coffee also creates micro-pockets that trap odour and help the outer layer to dry 200 percent faster than regular shoes.

And as a bonus, with natural antibacterial qualities, coffee also prevents the shoes from smelling, he added.

Besides that, coffee has UV-blocking properties to ensure the colour of the shoes stay brighter for longer.

Each pair allegedly smells like coffee too, so users will always be reminded of their favourite beverage.

Currently, Thanh imports the materials for the shoe bodies from Taiwan, but thanks to the abundance of coffee grown in Vietnam, he is looking at sourcing domestically.

ShoeX promotes development of circular economy

Thanh’s efforts to make shoes from recycled materials play an important role in making the economy go circular, in which waste and pollution are reduced while natural systems are restored.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 estimated that every day more than 2 billion cups of coffee were consumed across the globe, with six million tonnes of wet and waste coffee ground sent to landfill sites every year. This has a critical impact on the environment as decomposing coffee releases methane into the atmosphere while methane is the second-most abundant greenhouse gas and has a global warming potential up to 86 times greater than carbon dioxide.

In Vietnam, the incredible coffee culture has been consolidated with mushrooming coffee chains as well as street coffee vendors becoming a staple on every corner. Vietnamese people drink around 17 billion cups of coffee a year, which means they use 46.5 million cups per day.

According to Indian-based market research firm Ken Research, Vietnam’s domestic consumption of coffee has been growing at 7.9 percent annually, while BMI Research, a subsidiary of ratings firm Fitch, estimates consumption grew from 0.43 kilogramme per person in 2005 to 1.38 kilogrammmes in 2015.

This is the highest growth rate of any global coffee exporter, and the figure is forecast to reach 2.6 kilogrammes by 2021, BMI said.

As the detrimental waste is a calamity in itself, while the world and domestic coffee drinking habit is unlikely to wane, Thanh thought it is crucial to find ways to recycle and reuse this material.

ShoeX was launched in July this year and has sold some 10,000 pairs of shoes. This means 1.5 tonnes of coffee and 120,000 plastic cups have been recycled. Thanh is planning to transform the spent coffee grounds and use plastic on an industrial scale, helping to give new life to materials previously considered as waste. Particularly, his coffee shoes are biodegradable within five to ten years.

With Thanh, the creation of ShoeX was not only to make money, it is a journey to persuade customers to make sustainable choices. In fact, ShoeX has won over many Vietnamese people, who are ready to pay over 1.9 million VND (81.62 USD) for a pair of shoes that protect the environment while making a fashion statement, Thanh said.

Thanh believes in order to shape a circular economy in Vietnam, there should be more brands like ShoeX who can together create a trend for recycling as ShoeX alone cannot speak loudly enough about environmental protection. He also pointed out that it is not difficult for businesses to recycle waste, and waste classification at source will provide firms with reliable supplies to make products.

Vietnam is forming circular economy

At a macro level, Vietnam has policies to facilitate the circular economy. In 2017, the Prime Minister approved a project to form an environment industry that can meet the contents of the circular economy by 2025.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade is currently drafting a National Action Programme on Sustainable Production and Consumption, which will be implemented from 2021-30.

At a local level, big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh have set a series of goals including reducing 60 percent of plastic bags by 2020 at supermarkets and trade centres and 50 percent in traditional markets.
Meanwhile, renewable energy and new energy will reach 1.7 percent of total energy capacity. At the same time, the relocation of pollution production facilities in residential areas is ongoing.