How to make brittle plastic work in shoes
She researched the project with the help of her contacts in the industry. Plastic alone is too brittle for shoes, so she shredded it and mixed it with natural rubber to make flexible soles with multi-colored plastic speckles.
For the rest, she used only ecological, fair trade and vegan materials—organic cotton, recycled linen, “Piñatex” fabric from pineapple leaves, local cork—and no microfibers, leather or synthetics.
Her background in the shoe industry was a major advantage. “A lot of people believed in our project and supported us,” she says. For example, a maker of molds for soles, normally a large investment, provided them for free. Other partners helped with marketing, communication and a website. She received no government funds or bank loans, so the business development was like “baking a cake without eggs.” But she managed to get the company up and running.
Mano designed a simple, fashionable sandal with crisscross straps and named the new company Zouri, after the traditional thonged Japanese sandal. Then she launched a crowdfunding campaign for production, raising €30,000 in one month.
In 2019, Zouri won second place in the EIB Social Innovation Tournament, in the special category on sustainable consumption and production. The tournament is an annual event that helps entrepreneurs who are solving problems in society or the environment.
Zouri now makes sneakers in addition to handmade sandals. All production takes place within 100 kilometres of the atelier in Guimarães. The company sells shoes directly to people online, and also distributes to shoe stores, concept stores, hotels, and the like.
Its first year in business, Zouri had €200,000 in sales. By 2021, that number had doubled, despite the pandemic, a success reinforced by the collaboration with the California snow-and-surf company O’Neill on a sneaker. Mano expects €500,000 in sales this year.
600 kilograms of plastic for a batch of new shoes
Most of the plastic the company uses comes from fishing nets. While Zouri doesn’t conduct cleanup actions itself, it works with non-governmental organisations, cities and schools that pick up trash on beaches. Half its plastic waste comes from an organization called Brigada do Mar, which has been cleaning Portuguese beaches since 2008.