Over the past 8 months, we experienced The Great Reset, a moment in time that drew us all into our homes to sit with the state of the world and begin to process why certain aspects of life are the way they are. Why do I own so much shit that hasn’t seen the light of day since I last entered an office or went to a client meeting? The world caught up to us these past 8 months. Some people sat idly at home hitting the proverbial coffee mug against the bars of quarantine, while others dug deep, envisioned what they wanted for the future, and starting taking steps to get there.
The vision behind Ponto started 2.5 years ago out of a desire to no longer feel disempowered in doing my part towards cleaning up the environment and giving consumers better choices in the products they buy, and helping people to foster less superficial relationships with the things they own. While I didn’t think that shoes would necessarily be my answer to that wake up call, I set a deadline on myself to come up with a physical product that we would build a brand around looking to greatly raise the bar of what “truly sustainable” means in the world of consumer goods. Turns out the idea for Ponto came from a ratty ass pair of wool loungers (see picture below) that I owned for about ten years and had the cotton coming out the bottom. After work one day, I hopped on my computer for a routine thoughtless re-purchase of these wool loungers that I had worn to class in college, brunch in San Francisco, and while browsing online discovered they were no longer made. This created sort of an aha moment in my noggin as it intersected with the point in time at which I was pressuring myself to finally come up with an idea, and 2.5 years later this is how it all started.
The pair of heines wool loungers that inspired it all
When initially concepting the idea for Ponto, I very quickly realized there were 8000 interpretations of what sustainability means. Some keyboard warriors only buy under the lens of “vegan”, while other factions buy “quality”. No one definition is better than the other, especially when looked at so rigidly. For example, most vegan leathers are incredibly petroleum intensive, create gross amounts of toxic runoff in surrounding factory areas, and all that toxicity is quite unsanitary for factory workers to inhale. While maybe vegan in textiles has some inherent virtue, vegan used in the “traditional vegan” leather sense is a whole other story. There are a lot of new more truly vegan leather alternatives on the horizon be it Mylo (which is a Mycelium mushroom leather) or Zoa (which is a leather alternative created in petri dishes from collagen), but neither of these solutions are commercially available at this point in time and the ones that are lack durability and quality, which I believe to be one of the most important components of reversing the trend of fast fashion to slow fashion.
This is just one sub-dialogue around the broader conversation of eco-materials and overall sustainable methodologies, but helped lead us to take the approach we do at Ponto. At Ponto, we try to adhere and uphold as many interpretations of “pragmatic sustainable fashion” across our entire value chain, one example being the following:
We chose a very unconventional material for our uppers- a recycled leather composite, most popularly used in airplane seats. It’s constructed using the scrap leather trimmings from leather tanneries that would otherwise be destined for landfill, as much as half to two thirds of leather trimmed ultimately goes to waste. While it’s essentially plywood leather, it’s water repellant, durable as all hell (sheesh I mean it has to survive the chaos of your average Spirit Airlines passenger), and is much more sustainable overall than many other alternatives. Some will cancel us because they’ll say we’re still putting cows in our shoes, but we are not responsible for any net new animal hides in the process of making the material and it’s a phenomenon that has yet to have a proper solution mapped to it. It’s not our forever solution, but we feel it’s the best option available that creates a quality product for the end user and minimizes the impact on the surrounding ecosystem around our factories and the workers putting so much effort into our product. Take that cancel culture.
The list of decisions that add up to us being as comprehensively sustainable as possible go on and on, but we’ll name a few here. We use a wood pulp Tencel fabric in our shoe liner that results in very little foot odor left behind and an algae based foam EVA shoe bottom that also contains recycled EVA foam as well. It has that sexy squishy sensation of a Nike Free runner and looks like a Cole Haan dress shoe up top. In addition, we use no toxic adhesives when bonding our footwear and specifically use water based cement. Our shoes come in a single, shippable, 100% recycled box, avoiding the wasteful and annoying box in a box problem.
At present, factories in the US are not well equipped enough to handle the new age sustainable materials we use at a cost that will create survivable cash flow, so we are forced to use ocean freight. That said, through our partnership with Flexport we are able to calculate the net emissions from the factory in Dongguan to the door of our warehouse in San Diego, and then pay a self imposed emissions tax that brings us back to carbon neutral. We also do this at quarter’s end keeping track of the carbon emissions from the parcel shipping of sending our goods to a customer’s doorstep, and offset those emissions with a self imposed emissions tax that we track through flexport.org’s emissions tracker.
To close the loop on our supply chain, we also encourage our consumers to send their Pontos back, through our buyback program, after their useful life in exchange for a $25 store credit. The shoes will then be repurposed and rebuffed by aspiring female entrepreneurs in developing nations to enable micro enterprise around the globe through our official partnership with Soles4Souls. This ensures that no Pontos go back to landfill, rewards our consumers to be forever Pontites, and enables micro enterprise abroad.
We conclude our sustainable story through officially participating in 1% For The Planet, where we commit and are held accountable to donating the greater of 1% of sales or 10% of profits each year to a non-profit of our choice. We donate to The Ocean Cleanup, arguably the most large scale and technically innovative mass ocean cleanup project to date. Not only are they cleaning up The Great Pacific garbage patch via a non-invasive system of artificial coastlines that extracts microplastics and nanoplastics from previously ignored sites, but they also recently launched their “Interceptor system” which crawls the fresh water waterways of the largest offending nations in terms of plastic dumping that makes its way to the oceans (from Bangalore to Indonesia), and by bottlenecking that plastic flow we now have a feasible solution to cut off ocean plastic at the source and cleaning up the sins of our past.
So there it is folks. That’s how we’re starting out at Ponto and this signifies us challenging the footwear industry to be better. We are a small self funded bootstrapped startup from San Diego California, so it’s time to get our shit together world. This isn’t a declaration of war, it’s a declaration of collaboration. All ships rise together when we challenge one another to be better, so consider this as our challenge to the industry. This party is just getting started. How will you choose to respond?