For most people, a trip to Bali probably conjures an idyllic escape from work, not the start of a whole new enterprise. But six years ago, a surfing trip there produced a Eureka moment for one of the co-founders of Indosole, a California-based shoe company that uses Balinese workers and materials to construct its footwear.

Kai Paul, the company’s business developer, says it all started in a souvenir shop, when surfer Kyle Parsons spotted a pair of hand-made sandals he thought could potentially sell to a broader audience.

With a few design tweaks and two years of painstaking sourcing, Parsons’ idea finally materialized in the company’s first line of shoes.

Indosole initially focused on producing sandals like the pair that Parsons first saw but has since expanded into slip-ons that look like a sturdier version of Toms and plans to launch further new designs in 2013.

It’s no accident the shoes look so durable: Each pair is hand made from discarded rubber tires—mostly from Bali’s plentiful motorbikes. “There’s motorbikes everywhere in Indonesia,” Paul said.

That translates to easy access to the rubber that gives Indosoles their distinctive tread on the bottom. “You literally go to a landfill almost every day and pluck tires from the landfill,” Paul said.

The tires also present a manufacturing challenge, though. Every pair of Indosoles is hand-made, which includes hand-cutting the rubber to size. “Obviously, you can’t have a metal band,” Paul said. “You’ve got to have a polycarbon thread so you can actually cut through a tire.”

Some entrepreneurs might suggest changing the construction model, but for Indosole, that’s part of the shoes’ character. “The craftsmanship in Bali and Indonesia in general is second to none,” Paul said, recounting how a woman named Putu made their first pair of shoes and continues to give input.

Making the shoes in Bali is part of Indosole’s commitment to the region, Paul said. “It was always going to be right there, because that’s where it was founded. . . . Indonesia is a hidden gem that we want to promote.”

From their goal of reclaiming a million tires from the landfill to their commitment to fair trade practices and sewing profits back into the region, Indosole’s owners take a long-term view of things.

Will consumers will do the same? As Elizabeth L. Cline reported in Overdressed, shoppers expect cheaper clothes than ever before and have been trained to expect new trends and styles every few weeks.

“It’s hard to anticipate colors and trends a year ahead of time,” Paul acknowledged. “You’re trying to make your own trend. Sometimes it works for you, sometimes it doesn’t.”

But for those willing to spend $55 on a pair of shoes, Indosole does present an alternative to Toms. Paul insists the two companies make totally different shoes and have different business models, and he’s right. One donates to developing countries, one provides jobs and a new use for discarded resources.

Indosoles retail at and in more than 40 stores in the United States and other countries.


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