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Sole survivor

This business has proven that quality comes even from used tire rubber and old conveyor belts. Manila Sole creatively turns landfill material into stylish shoes.
By Victoria Vizcarra |
Sole survivor

Their ability to marry sustainability and style has always been a point of pride for Manila Sole, whose vamp-to-sole recycled creations are as trendy as any of their conventional counterparts. But it’s their tread marks that give them away: The undersides of their men’s shoes are lined with used tire rubber, and their women’s line makes use of old conveyor belts.

“We have always been environmentally conscious, but being part of this company has just taken it a step further. It was the perfect solution,” says Jaime Inocian who, along with Rex Somera, Noel Lanto and Jing Esguerra, launched the eco-friendly footwear brand in 2011.

Scrapped but far from substandard, old tires are, in fact, overqualified in their new role as shoe material, says Inocian. “Tires are made to withstand the friction and pulling power of a car,” he points out. “When the rubber hits the road, that’s more use and abuse [than] we could ever generate while walking.”

To date, the company has saved more than 400 tires from taking up room in landfills. But no two are the same—they run the gamut of brands, each with varying degrees of wear and tear—so the Manila Sole team carefully inspects the rubber pieces that go through their production line. When weeding out those with too much mileage to make the cut, Inocian explains that “As long as the tires are not shredded [and] can be cut following the right shape and thickness, they can be used.”

There’s certainly been no shortfall of materials—part of Manila Sole’s supply was even donated by a big-name car manufacturer—but it still takes a lot of legwork on their part to scout for potential suppliers. At first, the founders took to scouring nearby junk shops to source rubber and canvass prices. They’re also keeping an eye out for other recyclable materials like denim scraps that they can introduce in newer models. “We’re still [thinking] of how to implement a program where people can donate their used tires to us,” says Inocian. “There are just so many cars in Metro Manila alone that [there are plenty of] junk [shops] willing to sell off used tires.”



Photo: Manila Sole

This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

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