Instead of throwing out used baby shoes, a Portland, Ore., startup want you to boil them.
Woolybubs founders Jesse and Megan Milliken felt guilty about how frequently they threw away outgrown clothes for their three kids, knowing that the clothes would end up in landfill.
They addressed the issue by developing biodegradable baby shoes that dissolve in boiling water.
Jesse previously spent 15 years at Nike in product creation and innovation, working closely with design and manufacturing. Megan worked as a program manager at CLEAResult, developing strategies for clients in energy efficiency industries. Combining their backgrounds in footwear and sustainability, the husband-wife team founded Woolybubs in January 2020.
Time lapse of Woolybubs shoe dissolving in boiling water (Woolybubs Video).
The shoes are made from a water-soluble plastic called Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), which uses less energy and water than other textiles during production, according to Woolybubs. The company sought the highest standard for testing, the Oeko-Tex 100, to certify that the dissolved solution is non-toxic and can be safely poured down the drain.
The founders were inspired by similar dissolving technologies in dish water and laundry detergent pods.
“We looked at something that existed in the world and solved a slightly different problem, and saw an opportunity,” Jesse said.
The company says more than 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away each year.
In 2018, the EPA reported that textiles accounted for 5.8% of total municipal solid waste generation. Textile waste also has an economic impact — disposing textiles typically costs $45 per ton, according to a report from Green America.
Woolybubs currently offers three products — the Newbie, Toddle, and Woolybub. While only the Newbie can dissolve, the Toddle and Woolybub are stitched with yarn made from discarded plastic. All shoes can be sent back to the company to be recycled again. Prices range from $38 to $48.
In the future, Woolybubs plans to grow into a kids footwear company, rather than just babies or toddlers. The company has two employees and is self-funded.