Putting the Right Foot Foward: Interview with Kyle Berner, Owner of Feelgoodz

Posted on 15. Apr, 2010 by in Entrepreneurship, Interviews, Products

Opportunity Green: You’re a self proclaimed flip flop enthusiast. Why flip flops?

Kyle Berner: When I was growing up, my Mom used to call me “The Barefoot Kid.”  I never liked wearing shoes, and flip-flops is the closest to barefoot that I can be.

OG: Tell us more about the rubber your sandals are made of and the process used to make them.

KB: Our rubber is derived from The Yang Para, or Rubber Tree. When a rubber tree is planted, it takes 7 years before it becomes ready for cultivation/’tapping.’  Once matured, farmers can tap rubber from the tree for up to 40 years.  Once that is complete, the tree is uprooted and used for rubberwood furniture.  A new tree is then planted in its stead, creating a cyclical process.

The Feelgoodz Process:

Step 1 : “Tap the Natural Rubber from the Tree”

A farmer uses a tapping tool to slice a small piece of bark off of the tree.  A small silver cup is attached the tree, and the white raw rubber oozes out of the tree like a sap.  A farmer will tap upwards of 100 trees per shift, then go back and collect the silver cups, and pour them into a blue bin.

Step 2:”Mix the Rubber with Non-Toxic Inks and Create Rubber Sheets”

Before the raw rubber settles, the farmer mixes the white rubber with non-toxic inks.  The rubber then turns into the color mixed.  After mildly settling (hardening), farmers place a rubber block (imagine a brownie pan full of rubber) through the rolling machine.  Out comes a colored natural rubber sheet.  The sheet is then hung on horizontal bamboo poles to hang dry for about one month.  The tropical climate in Thailand helps to produce Grade A Quality rubber sheets, the highest quality in the world.

Step 3:”High Rubber Compound Molding Technique Ensures Zero Thermoplastics”

The rubber sheets are then shipped to our manufacturer where the unique HRC (High Rubber Compounding) molding technique begins.  The sheets are placed in a mold and slowly compressed with high heat to prove for a soft comfortable pad of rubber.

Step 4:”Natural Rubber Sheets Stamped out in Various Flip-Flops Sizes”

The rubber pad is then stamped into the shape of a flip-flop in various sizes.

Step 5: “Strap placed into rubber flip-flops”

Once the various sizes are stamped out, the final step is for the molded rubber strap to be stamped into the rubber, creating an all-natural rubber Feelgoodz flip-flop!

OG: Can you give us a little more insight on your Triple Bottom Line? Where does each 1% go and how does giving back benefit you?

KB: We’ve actually taken the triple bottom line even further.  We now live by a model called “The Materials Economy,” consisting of 5 steps:

  • Extraction
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Consumption
  • Disposal

TheStoryofStuff.com has a great example of how a product is taken through a series of steps in its production cycle.  We have taken our flip-flop through this model and measured its responsibility each step of the way.  In living by this model, the triple bottom line (People, Planet, Profit) is not just covered.  It’s surpassed.  So, instead of funneling out 3% in a broader way, we’ve taken that same % and invested it in a more sustainable model.  We are still a 1%FTP member, an Ashoka Partner, and a B-Corporation, this model simply invests more in sustainability from the ground up.

OG: So the 5th point of ‘The Materials Economy’ is disposal; do you have any sort of program designed for the disposal of the flip flops or directions for how consumers can best dispose of used shoes?

KB: We have a new program called “Recycle Your unFlops”.  unFlops are flip-flops that do not biodegrade, and we have a program with Soles4Souls where you send your unFlops to a S4S DC, and once a year, they will send them to Kenya to employ Kenyan Villagers to make new products out of the unFlops for resale in eco-boutiques around the world. We are trying to create a “Zero Flip-Flop Waste World” through sales of our biodegradable flops and through pioneering such unFlop recycling initiatives!

OG: I read that before you started Feelgoodz, you sold your car and used the money for a one way ticket to Thailand. That’s inspiring stuff!  What was the catalyst that made you take the leap and how has the experience affected your decisions regarding your company?

KB: When I graduated college, I had a laundry list of interests but no particular ‘fit.’  So, the strategy I took was to find a way to tap into those interests, trusting that that strategy would lead to my passion in life.  International travel was one of those, and after I met a backpacker in Austin who was making it happen, I was inspired.  It was a certainly risky and perhaps even impractical to sell my car, but my gut was telling me “Now is the time.”  So I just went for it.  That decision is what ultimately led to the creation of Feelgoodz.  While I was there, I was most affected by power of giving, and so I made it a point to incorporate that in anything I did in life from that moment on.

OG: So what is most important to you about running your business, and what advice do you have for other environmentally minded entrepreneurs out there?

KB: Passion.  Vision.  Tenacity.  And as for responsible and sustainable business models, follow ‘The Materials Economy’.

Check out Feelgoodz at their website here.

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5 Responses to “Putting the Right Foot Foward: Interview with Kyle Berner, Owner of Feelgoodz”

  1. Seigi K

    26. May, 2010

    I absolutely love the concept of “Recycle your Unflops”! After a quick Google query, I stumbled upon this page: http://www.feelgoodz.com/2010/giving-back/recycle-your-unflop-campaign/. It’ll tell you more about the project and how to get involved! COOL!

  2. Clayton

    26. May, 2010

    i think that the “Recycle Your UnFlops” program is a really great one! Giving used flip flops a second life is a great idea, especially if it helps to benefit those in need in Kenya.

  3. Chris R.

    26. May, 2010

    its great that youre implementing lessons from thestoryofstuff.com and really investing your company in sustainability.

  4. Sue

    27. May, 2010

    Kyle, I love the fact that you are living your passion and dreams and did not let anything get in your way. You are doing great things. Keep it up, Kyle! You are a positive role model to many generations!

  5. Ricky Price

    20. Jun, 2010

    I like the concept! It’s something more than the usual. Being green nowadays is an ongoing controversy. But for me, being green will help our planet from it’s total destruction.

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