The new Chiba shoes featuring Yulex from Guatemala.
Decker’s owned Sanuk, the California shoe brand most known for its easy going slide ons, has launched a shoe made with Yulex—a natural rubber coming from FSC-certified forests in Guatemala.
First launched by Patagonia in wetsuits, the same material is relevant in shoes. The Chiba Journey LX are meant to be worn on rocky shores, up mountains, and even in the water. Designed in tandem with Ramon Navarro, a surfer and eco-warrior out of Chile, who had expressed the need for a more rugged shoe from Sanuk, able to take on rougher terrain, the Chiba Journey LX uses the same materials as those found in Patagonia swimsuits. This all-weather sturdy, slip in design doesn’t scream eco-friendly from any angle.
Using Yulex in the outsole as well as recycled materials throughout, the Chiba is part of Sanuk’s broader vision to incorporate more bio-based materials in their shoes and ultimately design a shoe with more than 50 percent recycled content.
Katie Pruitt, Senior Manager of Product Development, notes that this particular design took over two years to come together and involved experimenting with a variety of materials from soy-based to algae and sugarcane-based as alternatives for the standard petrochemical options. “It’s about matching sustainability with performance, and trying to do that as much as possible with natural alternatives.”
Yulex, which had been used by Patagonia, comes from Guatemala’s FSC certified rainforests. Hevea trees that have been planted in the region are tapped and managed for their latex production, an alternative to synthetic rubber made from oil.
Sanuk is still relatively early on in the journey toward sustainability. Decker’s, a $2 billion company consisting of several apparel and footwear brands, adopted seven of the UN’S Sustainable Development Goals and made a commitment to be a part of the UN Global Compact.
“Our thought at Decker’s is to see how far we can get. We are just now starting to talk about what we’re doing,” says Brooke Beshai, Director of Sustainability at Decker’s.
Is the shoe done? No, says Pruitt. There’s going to be constant research and development on how we can keep the performance of shoes strong, such as with these, but also weave in more sustainable materials. The winning combo with Yulex, she notes, was that the material didn’t sacrifice on performance. “It’s just as good as any other regular, conventionally-used material.”
Seth Pulford, Director of Marketing, is keenly aware that sharing these details and insights can get confusing for customers, particularly amidst some exaggerated claims and greenwashing by other brands. “It’s good for the industry to push what’s possible. It is though really challenging and confusing for consumers out there. 4% algae in the midsole of a product—that doesn’t necessarily back up the claim,” he jokes.
Communicating the finer details of these new products, innovation, and materials, though Beshai notes is essentially to get everyone on board. In the coming year, Beshai explains, we’re looking at how we’re communicating these efforts to our employees internally as well as externally. Plus to back up the claims, Sanuk will do Life Cycle Assessments on the different materials on offer: Is latex truly better than algae? “Can we show that with some data?” she suggests.
In addition to a keen focus on sustainable materials, they’re collecting data on how as a company Decker’s and within it, Sanuk, operates: water consumption, waste, electricity, and the varying amounts consumed either in HQ or in the supply chain are all being documented in a move towards sustainability.