Jesse Milliken worked in a leading shoe designing team for Nike.
However, in the autumn of 2020, with the wildfires going strong throughout Oregon, Milliken and his wife Megan began talking about new challenges in their careers.
They were driving back over Mound Hood and there was thick smoke all around them. This was the scariest condition they’ve ever found themselves in, according to Milliken.
They looked at each other and looked back at their children and knew that change had to happen.
Milliken Leaves Nike & Decides to Pursue Sustainability with His Wife
After this moment, Milliken decided to leave Nike. He wanted to shift his focus on sustainability and partnered with his wife and launched their brand Woolybubs.
Together, they’re trying to find solutions to environmental issues. Their first focus was one highly wasteful area of the apparel market, i.e., baby shoes.
They were inspired to find a way that will help lower the contribution of baby products to the waste in landfills. Their first product is baby shoes. And, these shoes, once the baby outgrows them, can be placed in boiling water and they melt.
The shoes are made using PVA. This is a water-soluble type of plastic used in plenty of other products, including pill coatings, detergent pod wrappers, and cosmetics.
And, if a baby chews the shoe, this won’t cause it to melt. However, boiled water is enough to make this shoe dissolve.
The shoes can also be broken down in industrial composting facilities. PVA is known to require less water and energy to be produced than other materials such as wool, cotton, and leather.
The Controversy Around PVA
This material isn’t perfect.
When it’s boiled, it may appear as if it’s disappeared; however, it actually transforms into a solution, same as salt dissolved in water makes the water salty and it’s still there, although we can’t see it.
Some studies point out that, as well as the company, that PVA is entirely biodegradable in water; however, others claim it won’t occur at a typical wastewater treatment plant because there’s a need for specific bacteria for the dissolving to happen.
The system also has to have the right temperature. According to research scientists Charles Rolsky who has studied this material while working for the nonprofit Plastic Oceans International, these factors play a major role.
And, when there’s no wastewater treatment plant for the breakdown, PVA can’t be broken down.
Woolybubs Are Dedicated to Ensuring Maximum Sustainability
The company is currently commissioning a study that will show if the shoes will biodegrade entirely, without causing microplastics and other residues.
They’re partnering with an independent lab that will test the shoes’ biodegradability in industrial facilities for composting, as well as in landfills and home bins for compost.
The shoes are made durable and long-lasting, enough to be donated to another baby after the first owner outgrows them. According to Milliken, they needed around a year to develop the fabric to be durable enough.
The trick was to make baby shoes that are quality and long-lasting, yet dissolvable.
The silk-like material is created from scratch. The shoes are made from PVA entirely. The design doesn’t include elastic to optimize the baby’s comfort and minimize the environmental footprint.
Woolybubs’s Plans for the Future?
The couple remains dedicated to finding ways to better sustainability. They’re continuously searching for innovative solutions to decrease the footprint on the planet.
They want to make another shoe, one for toddlers, from recycled PET and an outsole from silicone.
After being worn out, the customer can send the shoe back for disassembling and recycling
into yarn that’s used for making new shoes.