Well Made

Ep. 137 Subscribing to a shoe with Caspar Coppetti

January 28, 2021 · RSS · Apple Podcasts

To make a pair of shoes, manufacturers often use upwards of 100 components made from a mix of materials — fabric, plastic, and metal. When the shoe has run its course, it's most likely it will end up in the trash. In 2018, the EPA estimates that 9 million tons of clothing and footwear (70% of the amount generated) ended up in landfills. Shoes are particularly hard to recycle because once different materials are melded together, there's no recycling stream that will separate and reuse them. 

That's why the first step to making On's recyclable shoe was to use a single family of materials — polyamide (made from castor beans!). But that's just one piece of the cradle-to-cradle puzzle.

To capture the shoes for recycling, they've developed a subscription model and a dedicated recycling stream. Staying true to the mission, these shoes aren't recycled to turn into other plastic goods — they're recycled into new Cyclon shoes.

It's an experiment that co-founder Caspar Coppetti says is aimed at not only revaluing waste in the supply chain, but slowing down our behavior of consumption. In this episode, he goes in the weeds on sourcing, manufacturing, and open source sustainability after talking about the origins of On and their unique philosophy on sponsorship.

“It's not just that we want to pass the know-how on, but we actually need to build the supply chains that don't exist yet.”

 Subscribing to a shoe
 Subscribing to a shoe
 Subscribing to a shoe

After talking about rhinos as a surprising running motivation, Caspar shares how Roger Federer became a partner at On and how they're rewriting the rulebook on sponsorships (6:16). At its start, On was about the sole of the shoe, then the shoe, and now the brand. Caspar shares how they've built up to a philosophy of "running as a service" which created a natural evolution to Cyclon — a subscription running shoe that you never own (15:14)

Caspar admits that one of the first challenges they set out to fix with their subscription running shoe was figuring out how to get the shoe back from customers for recycling. An avid runner goes through a pair of shoes every six months, but what if someone is able to keep theirs for over a year? They considered hefty deposits, but instead, settled on a model we're all very familiar with — a monthly subscription (20:44). Caspar talks about the psychology and strategy behind their pricing. 

Next, Caspar gets into the science of their plant-based foam hero, polyamide – how it's made, how it's recycled, what makes it such a low impact crop, and why there's only one recycler for it in the world. (28:10) Finally, Caspar shares his open source approach to sustainability innovation and paints a picture of a future where it will feel strange to throw things away (42:36).


Also mentioned on this episode: 


You can find this and all future episodes on iTunes, Google Play, and here on the Lumi blog. This episode was edited by Evan Goodchild.

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