Overall, rainbow sandals does a fairly good job at being sustainable, yet I do feel they claim to be more sustainable than they truly are. Their slogan is to repair, reuse, and recycle and while they do do this, it is not to a great extent. For instance, they encourage people to donate so they can reuse sandal material, yet the leather is not biodegradable because it has been tanned. Further, they should advertise this more because I personally was not aware of this program when buying my own pair. On the good side, it can be recycled into things such as bags, belts and wallets. In addition, founder Jay Longley makes sure not to cut corners to make more profit, and would rather have a quality product to prevent breakage and reduce waste. He creates his product to last forever. I also love that this company wants to give back to its community. For example, 3% of total revenue is given back to various organizations. They recently produced and gave 1200 pairs to the San Clemente Educational Foundation so the foundation could sell them and raise money for their programs.
Rainbow sandals consist of 4 main materials including, the bottom sole being synthetic rubber, the arch being cell memory foam, the top sole being nubuck leather, and the strap being nylon. Nubuck lather is calfskin or cowhide and is very durable. However, raising cattle does require lots of energy and produces waste. While I like that the company uses a small amount of materials, I feel as though they could be using materials that are better for the environment. They are put together using a specially formulated glue to keep the layers together and prevent breakage. Founder, Jay “Sparky” Longley, personally formulated the densities of sponge rubber as well. While the glue used is environmentally friendly, the Air Quality Management Department reduced production to only 1000 pairs a day because of the specific solvent in the glue. It is called methyl ethyl ketone (MEK). It is a colorless flammable liquid that can occur naturally in foods and beverages. The Air Quality Management Department made this policy to protect public health. While this policy in place is good, it still neglects to acknowledge the toxic chemicals being used in the glue. Now, in China a VOC-free glue is used that is not allowed in the US due to its flammable properties causing the fire department to deny it.
All rainbow sandals are hand made. While some factory production is used to cut out the shape of the sandals, humans do the majority of the work. I find this great! More people doing the work means more jobs open and less chemicals in the air from factory machinery. In addition, this means that not a lot of energy is used in creating the sandal. The majority of energy use comes from shipping the material from China to San Clemente, where the main store and factory is located. The goal of this sandal was to create a quality sandal that would not end up in the landfill. The founder had to create and formulate many of his own techniques in order to end with a product he truly loved. He created a layered construction process which allows for repair and will ultimately create less waste. Further, the production that still occurs in San Clemente is now at zero emissions after the 1.5 million dollar purchase on an oxidizer. This oxidizer eliminates the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the glue before its emitted into the air.
Originally, the sandals were made by the founder in his garage until business began to take off. In the US, Longley has a team of 20 employees, all of which know how to and help make the sandals. Now, 3 of 4 rainbows sandals are now made in China. In 2004, Jay Longley decided to ship over 75 percent of the companies production overseas. Longley specifically chose a factory in China because it has factories that do not employ children. While it is good he did not choose a factory that does employ children, this new location creates the issue of having to ship materials. Longley frequently visits to make sure production is to high standards. Rainbow sandals also ship internationally and therefore, coal and fossil fuels are used in the distribution and transportation process.