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How Sneaker Brand Psudo Balances Sustainability Goals With a Domestic Manufacturing Model

Sustainable sneaker brand Psudo is trying to crack the code on minimizing production waste. And it’s doing it while staying locally made.

The company, which launched in 2020, opened a 5,000-sq.-ft factory in Vernon, Calif. in October, deepening its roots as a Made in America brand focused on sustainable footwear. The opening came after the company completed a $3 million seed funding round in May, which helped the brand set up the factory and hire more employees.

Michael Rich, along with his wife Kortney, founded the company in 2020 after spending most of his 35-year footwear career traveling overseas to source and manufacture product for brands like Skechers, Steve Madden and Reebok. When he founded Psudo, he wanted to create a new type of shoe in the U.S.

“It was this dream of making it locally, but then I had to fill it in with the right product,” Rich told FN in an interview. “And so I spent probably five years in advance of that launch creating the product.”

Psudo started out utilizing factory space in Wisconsin and Texas before settling on its owned factory in California, which currently employs 15 people that manufacture close to 10,000 pairs a month. When it came to finding materials, Rich didn’t try to recreate the structure and composition of a typical sneaker produced in Asia. Instead, he looked for locally available alternatives to suit his needs. In some cases, this meant not using “eco friendly” components that would have to be shipped from abroad and instead turning to different options available in the U.S., which Rich described as a “compromise.”

Psudo
Inside Psudo’s factory.
CREDIT: Psudo

Still, sustainability was and is a top priority. Psudo shoes are made using yarn made from recycled water bottles. Each pair of sneakers is composed of 75% recycled material and 7.2 plastic bottles, according to the company. The main component is a 3D printed upper — one piece of fabric that includes printed laces and other designs.

“We have one singular fabric to make up the entire sneaker,” Rich said, explaining how this construction eliminates the shoe waste that comes as a byproduct of connecting multiple fabrics. “That part from a sustainability standpoint is fantastic.”

When it comes to soles, Psudo is working on ways to utilize more recycled materials from scrap foam via a partnership with startup Blumaka which is set to materialize this July in the form of a new sneaker that will be made from close to 90% recycled content,

“Sustainability has to be first or second in mind when you’re launching product,” Rich said. “You have to be conscientious of what you’re putting out to the world. Other larger brands are having to backtrack and recreate materials.”

Producing in the U.S. is typically more expensive due to higher labor and materials costs. But it does offer other advantages by way of sustainability. Namely, the ability to avoid packaging waste and carbon emissions that can result from shipping products overseas. Plus, having direct access and control over a factory makes lead times for production shorter, making it easier to control for overproduction. Instead of planning for inventory 12 to 18 months in advance, Psudo operates on a nine month advance in the design process. The company can also react more quickly to create styles to meet demand as it happens.

“Even though the costs are higher, it’s offset by not having to make too much,” Rich said.

Similarly, the Portland, Oregon based Hilos, which also manufactures in the U.S., uses 3D printed technology and an on-demand production model that avoids overproduction waste. The startup recently closed a $3 million funding round to fuel product creation and partnerships with other brands.

Psudo launched as a DTC brand but is currently making the leap to wholesale and is currently onboarding with partners such as DSW, Nordstrom, Dillards, REI and Von Maur. Driven by the opening of the factory, Psudo is seeing “triple-digit” growth this year, Rich said.

“We were out of stock and struggling with getting enough inventory, which is the struggle of domestic manufacturing.” Rich said. “Controlling our destiny and opening up that factory has been such a key part of our of our success now.”

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