SOLE's new plastic-free packaging.

When approached in the right way, sustainable initiatives can benefit planet, company and customers alike.

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Getting a package you ordered online has become one of life’s simple pleasures. The smell of cardboard; the sound of slicing through tape and ripping open the box to end your excited anticipation. But like so many of life’s pleasures, online shopping often comes with a level of guilt: that icky feeling you get from being elbow-deep in single use plastic. 

Every year humans go through trillions of poly bags. Trillions. Take a second to think about the fact that a trillion is a million million.

You told us you were tired of the plastic. We were tired of it too. So we changed it. We totally overhauled all of our packaging with a commitment to using no plastic components. It wasn’t simple or easy, but we think you’ll agree it was worth it. In the end it’s made for more cost-effective, efficient packaging; a great example of how dedicating time and energy to doing the right thing can be beneficial to planet, company and customers alike.

soles old retail packaging

Our old packaging was designed for retail, and required poly bags to protect the product during shipping.

Why did the old packaging need to change?

The old SOLE packaging was designed to stand out from the crowd on a retail shelf. The open clip-in system allowed customers to easily interact with the footbeds. With the rise of online shopping, a whole new, very different set of priorities had to be met. These included ensuring that when you receive your new product it feels exactly that: new. Not beat up, scratched or stained. 

The simple, effective, affordable, and most commonly adopted solution is the poly bag. It’s worth noting that the environmental impact of a poly bag is far lower than the impact of replacing a product that arrives damaged. We considered poly bags a necessary evil. 

Our customers rightfully demand less plastic.

As our customers more frequently expressed their own concerns about receiving plastic packaging, it helped solidify the conviction that we had to come up with an alternative. It was clear that we needed packaging that protected the product without the need for any additional material. 

We approached this as a moment of opportunity, asking ourselves how else we could change packaging to increase efficiency. 

We decided that we wouldn’t stop at poly bags, but instead do away with ALL plastic components. We’d also get rid of hang tags from our packaging and make sure that all the information you needed was printed straight onto the packaging itself. We were also determined customers in retail stores should still be able to interact with our product.

As senior designer Shannon Hofer puts it: “We knew that the product needed to be put into a box, but we didn’t want to settle for the status-quo of insole boxes. We wanted something that spoke to the quality, uniqueness and excellence of our product.”

soles new retail packaging

Our new retail box with its slide-out tray.

Our new retail packaging.

After countless emails and many, many hours of design work, we landed on our new retail box. It’s completely plastic free, and made from recycled and recyclable cardboard. But the benefits for the planet don’t stop there. 

Our Director of Supply Chain, Andrew Yule says: “With the old packaging we were shipping a lot of ‘air’ with the backing cards much longer than the footbeds. The new packaging reduces the packaging footprint to the length of the footbed. This allowed us to increase the amount of footbeds on a container by 30%.” More efficient shipping means a lower shipping-related impact!

soles retail packaging hanger

The slide-out hanger designed for plastic-free efficiency.

There’s one crucial design feature that makes this increased efficiency possible: the slide-out hanger. Our packaging needs to be able to hang on retail racks, but a permanent hanger would nix the efficiency gains made. Many brands get around this issue by simply attaching a small plastic tab hanger, but we weren’t willing to compromise. Instead we designed a small cardboard hanger that slides up to hang, or back down for efficient packing in cartons.

This relatively simple design took time to perfect as we discussed back-and-forth with the factory to arrive at a paper weight that would do the job effectively. Too thin and the material would tear, too thick and it would be clunky and difficult to use. The same was true of finding the right paper weight for our slide-out tray.

recork cork collection hole

Collect your wine corks in your footbed box, to recycle with ReCORK.

The tray allows us to maintain our pre-existing status as the easiest product on the shelves for a customer to interact with: to hold, feel and try underfoot. It also gives extra space for educating, with the heat molding instructions printed on the back of the insert.

The slide-out tray also features possibly our favorite aspect of all: the cork hole! We encourage customers to re-use our box as a mini cork collection box before recycling it. Customers can store their natural wine corks in the packaging and drop them off at a ReCORK Collection Partner once their box is full. Those corks will go into making more footbeds!

On top of the many benefits to sustainability and efficiency, the new packaging has reduced costs for the company by a whopping 20%! This wasn’t the primary goal when we set out, but it just goes to show that making changes for the sake of sustainability doesn’t have to be a compromise. With enough time and attention you can come to a solution that benefits all relevant parties.

soles retail and online packaging

Our dedicated e-commerce packaging is a simplified take on the retail box.

Our new dedicated e-commerce packaging.

After successfully creating the retail packaging, and with the rapid rise in demand for online product, we quickly realized it made sense to create a dedicated e-commerce box too. This one was a lot simpler as it didn’t have the need for customer interaction or hanging product on a rack. 

New paper-padded mailers.

Call us obsessive, but we weren’t happy with just changing the actual packaging. We saw the waste of shipping a single footbed box inside another box, so we wanted to switch to a lower-footprint mailing envelope. But we didn't get this far to settle for a plastic padded envelope. So we found an alternative that uses recycled paper mulch as padding inside a paper envelope. So what we now send out is footbeds in a cardboard box, inside a paper envelope that’s stuffed with recycled paper. 

Thanks to our customers.

After all the work it’s taken to completely overhaul our packaging it’s been incredibly encouraging to see the positive feedback from our customers. It gives us inherent satisfaction to know we’re doing our best for the planet. But it also feels great to know that we’re giving our customers something that so many want: a guilt-free online shopping experience.