This article first appeared in our ‘Love is all we need’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 14 February 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
In the UK, we buy 60 million pairs of children’s shoes each year; the majority end up in a landfill or incinerator, simply because there are too many shoes and not enough recycling solutions.
‘Kids typically outgrow shoes every three to four months in the early years of their lives’, explains Jeroo Doodhmal, founder of ethical children’s shoe company Pip and Henry. ‘An average child will own 15 pairs of shoes over the course of a year.’
Children’s feet grow so fast that the average discarded shoe is far more likely to have been outgrown than damaged or broken in any way – especially in the very early stages when the child isn’t even walking.
Most of these unwanted shoes end up in landfill, where they decompose slowly. ‘60% of shoes are made from rubbers, plastics and other synthetic materials like PVC and EVA’, Jeroo tells us. ‘17% are leather based and the rest are textile based. Once they’re in landfill, these shoes can leach plasticisers, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals into the ground and water.’
While cotton takes about six months to break down and leather requires 20 to 40 years, most shoes contain plastic-based components that last much, much longer. PVC and EVA could take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
Businesses can help to reduce the number of shoes that end up in landfill by producing smaller batches. Jeroo acknowledges that adopting this approach is more expensive, but for her it also means no excess Pip and Henry stock that can’t be sold.
Perhaps more importantly, Jeroo has created a business that challenges the way we think about children’s shoes in the first place. She uses storytelling to help the next generation become part of a solution to stop the problem at source.
Each Pip and Henry shoebox doubles up as a fun board game, encouraging children to use everyday household waste for arts and crafts.
Jeroo has also penned unique children’s storybooks aimed at inspiring and empowering children to be the change they want to see.
The main characters are inspired by Jeroo’s daughter and her love of dinosaurs. ‘Pip is a little girl and Henry is her dinosaur friend’, she explains. ‘We build stories and adventures around these brand characters to help drive eco-mindedness in kids in a fun, inspiring and relatable way. We’re investing as much in the content side of our business as we are in our products, so we can grow awareness in the next generation – the kids who wear our shoes.’
Pip and Henry shoes are durable and should last at least two years – long after the average owner has outgrown them.
Customers are encouraged to send their old shoes back to Pip and Henry in exchange for £10 off their next pair. Shoes that are in good condition are donated to charity and damaged shoes are recycled or repurposed; nothing ends up in landfill.
‘We’ve partnered with First Mile to help with the recycling process’, Jeroo tells us. ‘The worn-out shoes are collected and various sorting and grinding processes are used to ensure materials are repurposed to create things like playground pads and building insulation.’
When Pip and Henry shoes reach the end of their useful life, they will degrade without leaving a toxic legacy.
The core materials used in the first range include Piñatex, a material that looks and feels like leather but is made from the fibres of waste pineapple leaves, plus recycled TPR for the soles and organic cotton for the uppers.
Future ranges could include recycled suede plus chrome-free and vegetable-tanned leathers, which go through less polluting tanning processes than traditional leather. Other organic and sustainable fabrics like jute, hemp and linen are also currently being considered.
Smaller production runs and high processing costs can mean these new renewable materials are anywhere from two to 10 times more expensive than regular materials.
‘The hurdle we have to overcome going forward is the customer education piece around sustainability issues’, Jeroo explains. ‘Encouragingly it is growing steadily, with consumers becoming more demanding of fashion brands when it comes to responsible manufacturing.’
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