These boots are made for walkin’ - Gutta SolesHandmade, recycled & funky sneakers made of tires
The Ghanaian start-up Gutta Soles designs the funkiest sneakers you’ve ever seen – made of old car tires and perfect for everyday. Read More
No matter the brand name, Adidas, Nike or Vans – sneakers are still top when it comes to footwear. Large corporations contract star designers to create eye-catching designs to stay ahead of the competition. Gutta Soles, a small start-up from Ghana, has shown that it is possible to create a design with widespread appeal even if you aren’t backed by millions of dollars in product and marketing support.
In Ghana, if you are looking for a well-paid job, shoe-making or another type of handcraft is not the way to go. But despite the overall unfavorable conditions, there are still people with exceptional command of traditional African handcrafts.
Founded in 2012 in Accra, the Gutta Soles label has taken advantage of this expertise and created a company that not only offers local cobblers a living wage that puts food on the table, but also produces environmentally friendly shoes. The shoes are primiarily made of recycled materials like old tires and leftover fabric. Using old tires is very practical as well – they make the shoes pretty much indestructible.
The company's initial intention was to design a shoe that was durable enough to handle surface conditions in Africa, according to founder Leslie Bentil. What makes the label so special is the high-end stylish look, nothing at all like practical all-weather boots.
The Gutta Soles founder recalls the initial idea behind the venture: “I came up with the idea after seeing a sneaker with a few fabric pieces glued to it. I had the idea to create a sneaker that could be worn in Africa without being destroyed due to the surface conditions - dirt roads, broken concrete, and no roads. We worked with what we could find and realized we could help alleviate waste issues if we could produce more shoes out of recycled car tires and fabrics. And then once we saw the demand for our creativity, we realized that it could economically empower the artists involved, so we created the company.”
Leslie was born in the USA, but maintained strong ties to his parent’s homeland. On a trip to Ghana in 2012, he noticed that local artisans held great creative potential, but lacked the basic infrastructure and necessary knowledge to turn their marketable products into an economically stable stream of income. Since Leslie had experienced the lack of cultural exchange between poorer countries and the “first World” first hand, intercultural and interdisciplinary exchange is very important to him. In addition to his role as the founder of Gutta Soles, he is also the Afrobeat/hip hop artist known as Kromanteng, and uses his music to build a bridge between people and cultures. “Building bridges” is therefore also the guiding principle of Gutta Soles – creativity as a path to economic independence.
To improve employment conditions for local cobblers in Ghanaian communities, Leslie started a crowdfunding campaign in fall of 2014. The money generated was primarily used to provide employees with better social security and health insurance.
While the crowdfunding campaign was going on, the young company experienced some unexpected complications – a cholera epidemic in the area where Gutta Soles was located meant that the buildings had to be torn down. In just a few days, Leslie and his crew had to clear out all their equipment, which left them quite literally on the street with their shoes.
But Leslie was not deterred in pursuing his goals. He has very clear ideas of how Gutta Soles will position itself in the near future as a social-economic company: As soon as the basic needs of workers have been met, he plans to move production from Accra to the provincial economic center of Aflao. He plans to build an environmentally friendly production workshop that will improve the firm’s CO2 footprint even more and create greater production capacity. Additionally Gutta Soles will take an active role in community projects, such as drilling wells for drinking water, building sanitary facilities, and waste collection projects to remove trash from the community. There are also plans to integrate solar energy.
The new collection could ensure that these plans become reality. To get an initial sense of it though, you’ll have to check Facebook rather than the company website: “Our prototypes are going through the last phase of the initial trials. We will be producing them full scale very soon!” Leslie announces. The prototypes could potentially strike a nerve with style-conscious shopping addicts all over the world. “Our next steps will be to keep our creativity flowing and breaking through with our "Custom Collection", while at the same time paving the way for our mass produced "Ambassador Collection" with Ethletic that will soon be available in stores.“