Close-up of a foot from toes to ankle wearing a Wildling barefoot shoe and standing on a wooden floor.

Recycled soles and new directions

Rain, snow, and freezing temperatures – The Wildling Shoes Krähe Refoxed model is specifically designed to protect our feet when things get really cold and wet outdoors. The wool used in the upper material and the lining makes the Krähe Refoxed an especially warm, water-repellent minimum shoe for autumn and winter. And the sole is also a very special creation, consisting of 20 percent recycled material that now comes from Wildling Shoes’ own production cycle.

In yet another step toward recyclability, Krähe Refoxed soles are made utilizing soles from used Wildling shoes or new soles that were never used in production. It’s been a long road from the initial idea to the finished Krähe Refoxed sole.

The first problem to solve was whether and how soles from used shoes could be detached from the shoe for reuse. While that may sound easy enough, it ultimately took a lot of headaches and tinkering that gradually led to a series of “Eureka!” moments and new solutions. Various tests and attempts were needed to understand how to remove the soles from used shoes.

A pair of feet in a walking motion on a wooden floor, from the back to the calves in the picture.

Krähe Refoxed. Image: Sarah Pabst

One discovery was that the processes for removing summer soles and winter soles are different. The soles are glued onto winter shoes, so heating the glue reactivates it and makes it relatively easy to remove the sole with no residue so it can be recycled. The Repair Center Portugal also contributed many important ideas about this, since it has the capability and know-how to experiment with heating and removing the soles.

Durable soles

In contrast, the soles on Wildling’s summer shoes are sewn on, so they’re not as easy to remove cleanly from the textiles. When it’s detached, the sole always has some textile fibers still attached to it. Since a higher level of textile residue in the material mix for soles can negatively affect their durability, having the right balance in the mix of recycled materials is crucial to ensuring the quality and long usable life of the soles. We commissioned a scientific institute to conduct extensive testing to make sure the soles correspond with the Wildling Shoes quality standards.

We also had to go in new directions logistically. How many soles are actually needed to have enough recycling material? Who can take care of separating and shredding so many soles and how do we reinsert this material back into the production cycle? The answers to questions like these can rarely be answered on our own. 

Two people dancing in an empty warehouse in front of a large window on wooden floor.

Image: Sarah Pabst

So we’ve been fortunate to find partners again and again who are equally willing to invest lots of time and commitment into coming up with new ideas and processing methods.

A great deal of pioneering spirit and patience were required. It took over a year of development from the initial attempts to the production of the first Krähe Refoxed soles, and there is still much to learn and optimize. So we see the Krähe Refoxed sole as a pilot project, one small step on the long journey to even more sustainability and doing business in a regenerative way.

Cover image: Sarah Pabst