Footwear brand SOLE steps up its sustainability game by collecting 130 million corks for insoles

ReCORK is looking to replace petroleum-based foam.

SOLE's ReCORK insole

Credit: SOLE

ReCORK is looking to replace petroleum-based foam

It’s not often that you find someone who loves the company that they work for as much as Paul Maugan-Brown. As the content manager for Vancouver-founded insole and footwear brand SOLE, he not only helps create sustainable products but also uses them every day himself.  

“Basically, anytime I’m not barefoot, I usually have some version of SOLE support under my feet,” Maugan-Brown says with a laugh. 

He has been with the company for over four years, having joined within a few months of moving to Vancouver from South Africa. In the business of making orthopedic-quality insoles and footwear since 2001, SOLE’s unique focus on sustainability, health and wellness was what resonated with Maugan-Brown the most. “Whether that’s hiking mountains or snowboarding (as is my passion) or whether it’s helping older people with foot pain be able to walk around Disneyland with their grandkids, the ethos of the company and the overall mission really spoke to me,” he maintains.  

SOLE_cred Matthew TuftsMatthew Tufts

Built on the idea that people should be able to access the level of support and comfort that you would get from a prescription orthotic without being set back $400-500, SOLE became one of the first companies to make custom, heat-moldable, over-the-counter orthotic insoles. The product—which retails for $60—has been the bread and butter of the company for the last 20 years, as Maugan-Brown puts it. And as of last year, it sold 8.5 million footbeds in total. 

The ReCORK recycling program 

In 2008, SOLE launched an innovative recycling program called ReCORK to start making insoles out of wine corks instead of synthetic petroleum-based foam. This came after founder and CEO Mike Baker realized that the floor of the beach house he frequented was made of cork tiling. “It was a 60-year-old floor, it had a lot of wear, dog hair, the occasional wine spill, kids around, but the floor was still in this really great condition,” Maugan-Brown explains.  

Baker was inspired by the material’s versatility, in the sense that it’s light, thermal-insulating, odor-resistant, moisture-wicking and cushioning. Corks also seemed to pack a punch in the fight against climate change—they’re biodegradable, compostable and carbon-negative (a unit of cork can remove up to 70 times its own weight in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to Maugan-Brown). 

SOLE midsoleSOLE

By working with over 3,500 eco-conscious collection partners across North America, the ReCORK program has just crossed the impressive milestone of collecting 130 million corks. Laid end-to-end, these corks would stretch 5,850 km. 

“We’ve spent a lot of time, energy and resources in pioneering a new way of working with cork to create a material that has all of the natural benefits without [any of the drawbacks],” says Maugan-Brown. “Our big, pie in the sky dream is to make petroleum foams obsolete.”