These Eco-Friendly Flip-Flops From Sri Lanka Protect the Environment and Workers

When Heather Shuster was vacationing in Hawaii several years ago and forgot to pack her flip-flops, she thought finding a pair in the resort area would be a snap. But according to Shuster, all she could find were inexpensive styles made with plastic and PVC materials that imposed a risk on the environment.

So Shuster decided to take on the challenge of creating a collection of eco-friendly flip-flops, using natural rubber as the basis for her new line, Olli, which launched today on Kickstarter.

“After much research, I discovered natural rubber, which is a biodegradable, sustainable and comes from a tree,” said Shuster, a former high school teacher who co-founded the company with her sister Holly Shuster Van Tilburg. “The only problem was no shoe factories would make it, and I was told it couldn’t be done. So I had to find my own raw materials and headed for Southeast Asia to find rubber trees.”

The entrepreneur found what she was looking for in Sri Lanka, working with a company that both processes the rubber and produces the flip-flops. However, the sisters weren’t satisfied in simply protecting the environment. They also wanted to support the workers on the rubber plantations they often found working and living in substandard conditions.

To make sure they were mindful of plantation workers’ conditions, the two became members of the Fair Rubber Association, an organization dedicated to improving the working and living conditions of the primary producers of natural latex as well as promote the environmentally friendly production of natural rubber.

Olli rubber tapping
Tapping a rubber tree on a plantation in Sri Lanka.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

The Kickstarter campaign is set to run for 30 days with a goal of $10,000. For a pledge of $12, supporters will receive a single pair, amounting to a discount of 59 percent off retail, while a pledge of $70 entitles a supporter to five pairs, totaling 52 percent off retail. The shoes are set to deliver in July and can be shipped worldwide.

Olli blue flip flops
Olli unisex flip-flops made in Sri Lanka.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

After the Kickstarter campaign, the sandals will retail for $29, said Shuster. A range of colorful solid and patterned unisex styles are available. They will be sold online as well as through select retailers.

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