Waste Not, Want Not: The Shoe that Changed it All!

Posted on February 5, 2015

“You are your most valuable asset and resource, and can be exploited to achieve great things.” —Roberto Gallotta, Co-Founder of Sols Sandals

I studied Brand Building and Management at Vega around the same time that I began to truly develop my own brand. By the end of my three-year undergraduate degree, I was tired of creating brands for other people and various businesses. I realized that to work hard for oneself and to reap the direct benefits was the ultimate reward. Given that I had only studied one small part of business development I sought out a more holistic approach to education: learning how to create a complete product not just the brand. In this journey I quickly found that the challenges I was experiencing were incomparable to any I had before—and I loved it. In a year that was instrumental to the development of my entrepreneurial identity, I hustled at every step to create a thriving business by the end of it: believing that hard work always pays off!

The gap in the market was quite obvious to me. I became aware that there was no environmentally friendly footwear available. I learnt that the shoe industry lacks technological innovation, and recycles ideas, rather than resources. This is the issue that we aim to address with Sols Sandals (the brand that I co-created). Sols Sandals was created during my PostGrad year in 2014 at the University of Cape Town. To the team working on it, it was a business purposed to revolutionize consumption through changing the way people see waste. We created beautiful, eco-friendly footwear using re-used tyres, cork and hemp.

The primary challenge we have faced was in our supply chain management and resource acquisition. The unusual materials, specifically cork and hemp, Sols Sandals uses are both scarce and expensive. The harvesting of the tyre tread is a skilled task that requires us to train individuals – a process that has been long and arduous and has lead to lack of delivery, quality issues and increase in costs. Secondly, our commitment to keep production local has also presented challenges as labour costs are high and skilled workers are in short supply. Finding a reliable producer has been a long road, and maintaining a healthy working relationship, despite disappointments, disagreements and negotiations has been a huge learning curve for myself and my business partner.

To overcome these challenges I have had to stand strong in my beliefs: I believe it is crucial for an entrepreneur to their battles – decide what is important and what isn’t, as valuable resources can often be wasted on trivial or non-essential problems. I also use prioritization as a problem solving technique. By working out which resources need to be protected, and which can be sacrificed. Through this method,  it becomes easier to decide what direction the business will take. For example, if the producer is struggling to meet deadlines, we evaluate the cost-benefit weigh up of quality versus punctuality and have learned to manage time expectations with our customers rather than pressurize the producers, which can lead to sub-standard products. Challenges and decisions are always made together with my partner so that responsibility, success and learning can be equally shared: maintaining a healthy internal working environment.

We are still in the early stages of building this brand. Our opinion is that it will revolutionize the way that we see waste, and the way that we think about shoes.

My last words? Spend significant time on developing a strong brand as that is the first point of contact that will cause people to engage or disconnect from the business.  Following that I would say that as a young entrepreneur networking and creating relationships is the foundation for business. By utilizing a wide range of contacts, many challenges can be avoided or overcome through the help of more experienced individuals. When approaching people or companies, back yourself – be confident and sure in yourself as most people buy into the representation of the product rather than the actual product. In the end, you are your most valuable asset and resource, and can be exploited to achieve great things.


Co-Founder of Sols Sandals