The SOLE Jasper Chukka: a shoe 15 years in the making.
Recycled wine corks, dedication to a cause, and a breakthrough in sustainable footwear production.
The journey to creating the Jasper Chukka started before the first Obama presidency. It started before Android was first released, and before the launch of Spotify. So what took us so long? In short, creating a continent-wide recycling program, reinventing cork recycling itself to innovate a revolutionary new material, and redefining what’s possible in sustainable footwear production.
The story really starts in the early 2000’s on the floor of a lake-house, under the feet of our CEO Mike Baker. Mike was inspired by the cork flooring that looked and felt fantastic after 60 years of use. He did some research into cork’s sustainability, and decided that SOLE’s future would lie with this familiar material with unrecognized potential. Maximizing that potential would take an enormous investment of time, energy, belief and determination.
Wine corks are a familiar material with unrecognized potential.
In 2008 SOLE launched ReCORK, a program to collect and recycle natural wine corks from kitchens, bars, restaurants and events across North America. The work began of establishing an extensive network of ReCORK Collection Partners who would join us in our mission to make the most of a material that was too good to go to waste.
Over the years ReCORK has seen many significant achievements including passing 130 million corks collected for recycling (and counting), and creating a line of Performance Footbeds using our recycled cork. These achievements were enough to verify the plausibility of a much grander goal. We became determined to have a meaningful impact on the way the footwear industry as a whole approaches sustainability. To do this would require achieving something that nobody had ever done before.
This ambitious shoe, which started its journey so many years ago, is symbolic of much more than just a breakthrough in footwear production . . . it’s an example of what’s possible when you’re truly dedicated to finding a better way of doing things.
ReCORK Recycled Cork achieves what was previously thought impossible with cork.
In 2018 our R&D team made a breakthrough that would hugely elevate ReCORK’s potential impact. We innovated a whole new way to agglomerate ground cork. This achievement allows us to create the all-new ReCORK™ Recycled Cork, a material that’s light, durable, flexible and cushioning in a way that cork has never been before. It’s an ideal carbon-negative replacement for the petroleum-based foams and plastics that dominate the modern footwear industry and sneaker midsoles in particular.
Having made this breakthrough we challenged ourselves not to settle for the world’s most sustainable midsole. We would create a shoe that’s low-impact in almost every element. A shoe that shows that sustainability doesn’t have to mean compromising on function, feel or style. We sourced the highest quality materials we could find that met our sustainability standards, and the result was an early version of the Jasper Chukka.
The Jasper Chukka at the Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards, 2018.
This shoe would go on to be shortlisted for an Outdoor Retailer Innovation Award. The eventual winner of that award was another material that utilized a precious material that would otherwise go to waste; a textile that salvaged bison fur that was being discarded as a by-product of the ranching industry. This high performance, natural, up-cycled material was the final piece of the sustainable puzzle we’d been searching for: the loft to fill the Jasper Chukka.
In February 2019 we launched the shoe on Kickstarter, reaching our funding goal in just 84 minutes. The people had spoken and the excitement around the shoe was palpable. We couldn’t wait to begin the process of moving the shoes into production, but we noticed one sticking point.
The ReCORK Recycled Cork compound has been perfected (right) since early promotional samples (left).
The ReCORK Recycled Cork formula needed tweaking. Durability in promotional samples wasn’t what we wanted it to be, and durability is essential to sustainability. We faced a difficult decision: deliver a shoe of sub-par quality to our backers while refining the cork formula in the background to improve on further iterations, or delay delivery. We weren’t prepared to send out a shoe to our backers that wasn’t up to standard. While it would mean waiting longer, we believed they deserved to get the best shoe we could possibly send them. Our R&D team got to work refining the processes and made some great progress. And then, COVID happened.
Like all businesses, we were impacted by the global upheaval of the pandemic. The significant disruptions and constraints that it caused delayed us more than we had expected, but our R&D team continued working away to improve and perfect the new ReCORK Recycled Cork formula. And perfect it they did.
After those first steps on that cork floor so many years ago, Mike’s vision has finally been realized. ReCORK has created a recycled cork material that can effectively replace petroleum based foams in footwear. And what better way to debut it than in the Jasper Chukka? This ambitious shoe, which started its journey so many years ago, is symbolic of much more than just a breakthrough in footwear production. We believe it’s an example of what’s possible when you’re truly dedicated to finding a better way of doing things. It’s an example that when approached the right way, you can have sustainable production without compromising on function, performance or aesthetics. And perhaps most importantly, it’s an example that if we as a species continue to do the work diligently, we CAN rid ourselves of our reliance on, and addiction to fossil fuels.
All in all, we consider the Jasper Chukka the product of 15 very well-spent years. Check it out and order yours!