Soy-Based Plasticizer Supports the Feet of Frontline Workers
U.S. soy is the heart and sole of Okabashi. The shoe company counts on U.S. soy for all of its sandals.
One of the 2% of shoe companies based in the U.S., Okabashi is committed to producing its footwear with sustainable and renewable materials. They chose soybean oil to replace petroleum. The company’s shoes are approximately 45% U.S. soy by weight. U.S. soybean oil meets Okabashi’s high standards for performance, offering both strength and softness. The soy-based sandals also qualify as a USDA Certified Biobased Product in the USDA’s BioPreferred Program.
Earlier this summer, Okabashi committed to donating 10,000 of their soy-based shoes to frontline workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. They have donated over 5,000 pairs so far. With large-scale soybean production in the U.S. — U.S. soybean farmers produced more than 11 million metric tons of soybean oil in 2018 alone — Okabashi has the reliable supply of materials it needs to fulfill shoe orders and this significant donation.
Kim Falkenhayn, president of Okabashi Shoes, said when the company went looking for efficiencies, they quickly found that working with biobased and recycled materials served dual purposes for sustainability of the business and the environment.
“It was truly an ‘aha’ moment when customers were getting excited that we were making shoes with soy. That became the selling point,” Falkenhayn said.
Soy offers efficiency without tradeoffs. Shoes with newer materials derived from soy oil don’t break down and have the same performance as petroleum-based shoes. The soy component of the shoe compound is a plasticizer. Globally, biobased plasticizer is set to boom in the upcoming years. A report from July 2020 predicts 11% growth by the end of 2025.
When the idea first sparked of switching to soy oil, biobased plasticizers were just coming into the market. Okabashi jumped at the new opportunity, quickly seeing the rewards of using soy.
“It usually takes years before this type of technology is commercialized and made readily available. But, we work with one of the biggest compounders in the world and pushed them for the newest technology,” Falkenhayn said. “They were just getting into biobased plasticizers and needed some customers to bring this new technology to market. We wanted to be the first one to do that.”
Falkenhayn added, “At only the first stage of product testing, it seemed as if the shoe fit perfectly.”