The groundbreaking product was designed by Kāpiti man Greg Howard, who launched the locked-down business last year after years of planning and research to create a footwear company that would struggle to reduce the quantity. pollution caused by 20 billion shoes landfilled each year. .
The result is a durable, bespoke 94% plant-based shoe with a natural rubber organic rubber sole, rice hull ash, coconut oil, and cork, coconut and natural rubber insoles.
The formula is not only a world first combining aesthetics, technical excellence and ethics, but is also designed to eliminate the number of shoes thrown in landfills.
Orba’s first full-time employee, Sustainability Manager Gillian Boucher, said the company’s philosophy is to close the loop in product production.
“The basic principle of the shoe is that we wanted to design a shoe that is biodegradable down to the smallest detail.
“Take the eyelet for example, most shoes would have metal or plastic eyelets, so we had to find a way to create them without those materials.
“We decided to try embroidering them, which the shoe assembly maker had never done before – so there were a lot of firsts during the production process.”
Although only available in the New Zealand market, production is carried out in Indonesia, which has one of the largest shoe manufacturing industries in the world.
Part of their sustainable ethics included creating social development initiatives to help their weavers and local partners in Indonesia.
“We believe in social equity and fair treatment across our global community, so our standards include freedom from discrimination, fair pay and decent working hours as some of the benefits for our employees. . “
Using materials such as the husk from the outside of the rice which is a waste of food production in Indonesia, Orba buys it and turns it into biosilica.
“It gives local farmers extra income because we buy what they would normally throw away.”
Although the shoes are made with natural products and designed to biodegrade, Gillian said this does not compromise the design or quality of the Orba shoes.
“If you put on a cotton t-shirt, it won’t biodegrade as you walk around town, but if you put it in a nutrient-rich environment, it won’t be there for long.
“It’s the same science.”
The shoes are made to high standards, competitive with normal shoes and have passed all relevant ISO standard tests.
“They meet international standards for abrasion, slip resistance, flexibility and tear resistance.
“They are durable, super comfortable, smart and diverse.”
Currently only producing the Ghost Sneaker, an elegant off-white, it is possible to produce other colors and models using the same natural products.
“We work with our local weaver and local dyers in Indonesia and they have a whole bunch of beautiful herbal dyes for future colors.
“We just want the shoe to be on the market for a little while to see what our customers might want before we add more options.
“Anything can be made from these materials.”
To complete the cycle of consumption, Orba wants you to send the shoes back to them when you no longer need them.
“They will biodegrade in a really specific environment, so we want people to send them back to us so that we can dispose of them in the right environment.”
Gillian said closing the production loop is an emerging trend that she thinks we’ll see soon.
“I think we’re going to see companies working together to work on collection systems with infrastructure for industrial compostability and biodegradability facilities.
“Right now you can have a lot of biodegradable stuff, but it has to be in the right conditions.
“We need to strengthen the infrastructure and work together to manage these products.
“We want products that are environmentally friendly, but the industry has to start looking for ways to deal with them at the end of the day.”
Gillian said it is exciting to be part of a company that has stood firm on its sustainability goals from the start.
“The ethics behind the shoe is revolutionary and exciting.
“It has been a challenge to replace all parts of a shoe with natural alternatives while making it better and profitable at the same time.
“We have been very strict in staying firm in our commitment.
“You feel proud when you stay true to your goals.”