Billboards to beach sandals: Paper Feet

Billboards don’t just “litter” our roadways… they create an awful lot of waste: according to Jimmy Tomczak, founder of Paper Feet, “Every year in the U.S. alone, so much billboard vinyl is thrown away that, if laid out, it would more than cover the state of Massachusetts.” For Tomczak, that mass of printed vinyl going to landfills turned out to be the perfect material for a product he envisioned while an undergrad at the University of Michigan: minimalist “barefoot” sandals that protected his feet while still providing the feel of going shoeless.

The Paper Feet concept always involved “upcycling” some kind of waste material… but it took several tries before Tomczak happened upon billboard vinyl (he first tried Tyvek envelopes). It was also a product concept that earned more than a few head-scratches: his first attempt to sell the shoes face-to-face at an art fair wasn’t particularly successful, nor were sales calls on brick-and-mortar shoe stores. With the growth of “minimalist” footwear, though, Tomczak has found his niche… and buyers from around the world, who purchase Paper Feet sandals through his web site.

He’s trying to scale up production at this point, and believes he can do so in the US (a rare feat these days in the apparel sector). Like many budding social entrepreneurs, Tomczak’s gone to Kickstarter to raise funds for his venture’s next level… you can see his “pitch” video above.

Vinyl’s one of those materials with which we greenies have a hate-love relationship: it’s pretty toxic in and of itself, but does provide durability at a reasonable price. Reusing it, rather than burying it (where its components may leech out), makes a lot of sense.

What do you think? A great idea for making use of this form of waste? Encouragement to keep making vinyl billboard material? Let us know…

via American Express OPEN Forum