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Coffee shoes help entrepreneurs tread new ground

Two young Vietnamese entrepreneurs have developed a unique way to make sneakers, and they hope their idea be a wake-up call for the training shoe industry.

Tran Bao Khanh and Chu Hoang Son, founders of Rens Original which makes sports shoes from used coffee grounds. — Photo courtesy of Rens Original

Tran Bao Khanh and Chu Hoang Son set up a company called Rens Original which makes sports shoes from used coffee grounds.

The idea is to help reduce the carbon footprint, as the fashion industry is one of the most polluted businesses in the world.

The pair feels their shoes can not only look the part but also help protect the environment.

"When we came up with the idea, we wanted to make really cool shoes which are made from sustainable material because we couldn’t find one in the market,” said Khanh.

“What we did was that we are trying to make a shoe out of organic cotton. But that shoe was kind of bad, and the material itself is not so cool.

“After that we found the coffee waste material to make coffee yarn. This coffee material has amazing function.”

Although the two businessmen grew up in Vietnam, they did not meet until they both moved to Finland to study.

It was here their idea was born.

“Where we are from, which is Vietnam, is one of the biggest coffee producers in the world,” said Khanh.

“And where we live, which is Finland, is the highest coffee consumption country in the world.

“So that’s why we decided to go with coffee.”

The two young men both have experience in fashion manufacturing and e-commerce so they know how the fashion industry affects the environment.

Their method sees old coffee mixed with recycled polyester from used water bottles to create the main material of the shoes which is coffee polyester yarn.

“The whole upper part, the inside and the insole of the shoes are made from coffee polyester yarn material,” he added.

“For the sole, we still use the normal tennis shoes’ sole which is called EVA. And the recycled rubber is used for the colour part.

“The coffee material itself has a really great function which is anti-odour and anti-bacterial for a long time.”

Last year, the two called for funds on Kickstarter, a global crowdfunding platform, for three months, and raised more than VND12 billion (US$550,000)

Khanh said: “Calling for funds on Kickstarter was obviously a huge success. It was the most successful fashion crowdfunding campaign in the Nordics and also on Kickstarter itself.”

Kickstarter brought the duo both opportunities and challenges.

“It put a lot of pressure on us,” he added.

“When we first started out on Kickstarter, we actually didn’t have any shoes. All the shoes that customers saw on Kickstarter were all dummy shoes.

“If we look at the statistics of Kickstarter, most of very big Kickstarter campaigns fail because they fail to deliver to customers and delay for several years.

“We are very lucky that we successfully delivered all our shoes to customers with only two months' delay considering with COVID-19 at that time.”

Making and delivering shoes wasn't enough though, the products had to be quality to ensure customers buy more than one pair.

Khanh added: “The quality of the shoes actually exceeds what we promised our customers. And we are very proud of it.

“Customers come back to buy more a lot, more than half of our customers come back to buy more than one pair.

“And they are really happy with the shoes, we sold out all the time.”

Although the thinking behind the product is to make an environmentally friendly shoe, the two young men also wanted to create a cool brand.

“We want our shoes to naturally attract the young consumers without knowing this is sustainable,” Khanh said.

“The sustainability is just like a cherry on the top, so people would buy Rens shoes because they look great and then because of the functionality innovation first and foremost."

The two have won plaudits from Forbes Vietnam and Forbes Europe, but Khanh just sees recognition as motivation for him and his co-founder to work harder and create a bigger impact by making Rens Original greater.

“We were very happy and very proud,” added the 28-year-old.

“We are Vietnamese and we are representing Vietnam all the time on the world stage.

“Those recognitions could make me and Hoang Son work even harder because we realise that we are actually much smaller than those in the Forbes lists who have much bigger companies and impact than us.”

In just over a year, the company has sold more than 20,000 pairs globally. Rens shoes have sold well not only in Europe but also in the US.

Rens Original is just starting out and has support from investors from Finland, the US, Malaysia and Germany.

The team also wants to develop the business in Vietnam and hope to produce shoes in their country of birth in the future. The shoes are currently made in China as they have been unable to find a Vietnamese factory capable of mass-producing their shoes.

Khanh said: “Now, we are currently finding a good partner to make our shoes in Vietnam. This is a current challenge.”  VNS

Minh Phuong

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