Mexicans make ecological sargassum and PET shoes

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Jorge Castro and Mario López took 7 years to develop ecological footwear and now offer a product to help take advantage of the sargassum

Jorge comes from a family of shoemakers. His grandfather, his father and he were born in the cradle of footwear:  León, Guanajuato . From the age of seven, he went in the afternoon or spent his vacations at his father’s factory and thus learned how footwear is made. The experience of the three generations totals 80 years making shoes.

At age 12 he had an experience that marked him. One day he got into a truck where they moved the shoes and smelled a lot of solvents since 90% of the factories use solvent-based adhesives to glue the sole with the shoe cut. Since then he said: “Something I’m going to do to stop the shoe from smelling like that.”

It was 10 years later when he managed to glue the water-based shoes and began making ecological footwear. But to get to have the footwear that he has made today with 5 PET bottles of   600 ml for cutting and 100 grams of sargassum for the soles, he had to listen to many negatives and hold on to his dream to continue.

Mexicans who made sargassum and PET shoes
CourtesyMexicans who made sargassum and PET shoes

Persist even if they call you crazy

Jorge studied business administration but never left the family business. At 21 years of age, together with his friend Mario López, who had studied marketing, he began the dream of making his own ecological footwear. First, they tested with tree bark, then with polypropylene and other materials, “it was five and a half years of trial and error,” he says.

While he was doing the tests, people were telling him everything: “You are crazy”, “That is not going to be sold here, only in Europe”, “Stop smoking, your follies do not work, start doing what we all do: shoes traditional ”.

Jorge felt he didn’t fit in the industry. “I always went out to fight with clients because they didn’t give the importance to common footwear and I thought they would give much less to ecological footwear.”

The young entrepreneurs went through a lot of frustration and despair. After 5 and a half years of doing tests and more tests, Mario found the material of recycled PET bottles with raw material for shoes. 

We are in the era of plastic, says Jorge, since the 90’s the PET bottle is recycled and 480,000 million bottles of this material are discarded every year; that is 1,000 units every minute. There are five islands of garbage floating in the ocean.

Then they started knocking on doors until the engineer Octavio Sierra, who graduated from UNAM, who believed in them, explained what they had to do to get a material to make the shoe from the plastic bottle. Despite the discovery, Mario was absent from the company for two years and Jorge continued to work in his father’s factory and do research to build the ecological shoe.

After seven years of trying to develop the shoe, Jorge managed to have a prototype and made Mario return to the company to design image, logo, packaging. In 2014, the largest footwear and leather goods exhibition in Latin America was installed at the SAPICA fair, and “nobody stripped us”. The comments were: “It is expensive”, “It is ugly”, “It is not going to sell”, “It is recycled and it should be very cheap to do so”.

Jorge decided to pursue his dream, ignoring the comments that came from close people like his father even from people who worked in the big brands, and in 2016 they launched their first shoe production.

The entrepreneur insists the Renovare business model is part of the circular economy where you buy a plastic bottle, discard it, that is recycled and, through processes, you get recycled polyester material, with this the cutting of the shoe and with the sargassum, the sole is made. You can buy it, use it and you can return it when you no longer use it so that we can recycle it again. “We fight climate change and pollution through a product. It offers people an opportunity to do something against these problems. ”

The sargassum is considered a natural disaster in 20 countries, in the last five years this macroalgae has increased significantly on the beaches of the Caribbean and its effects could have serious consequences on tourism and economic growth in the region. It is estimated that this alga generates ecological effects, bad smell, and damage to health.

Get customers and investment

For the marketing part, Benjamín López, a partner, and commercial director joined the team, a person with 25 years of experience in international marketing who worked in the family business.

The footwear went through 50 tests of resistance, abrasion, wear, to avoid being demonized because it is believed that the sole can disintegrate or that it will not last. After the tests, they developed 50 pairs that they distributed to clients.

Their first client is the Xcaret natural park and they are in negotiations to send footwear to California, Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Germany, and Haiti.

There are even people who don’t sell shoes and who want to invest them. “The message is coming, we do not sell a shoe, but a help, because 10% we will allocate it to clean the ocean and extract the sargassum.” They are allied with the Plastic Ocean organization.

At the time of the interview, Jorge shares that they are producing the first batch for his client and says that they are open to investment to develop more technology that will help them further improve the product.

Source: altonivel

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