At first blush, Kyle Parsons, founder and CEO of eco-friendly footwear line Indosole, isn’t your typical shoe mogul. (For one, he moved to California after college to snowboard on Lake Tahoe.) But in actual fact, everything in his youth has led up to this point.
Raised on an island called New Castle, about 45 minutes north of Boston, he was educated at Proctor Academy, known for being one of the first “green” prep schools in the country. While in college, he spent a summer working at a recycling facility in Nantucket. Then when he moved to Lake Tahoe, he wound up managing the footwear section at a local surf shop. An internship at New Balance’s Boston headquarters followed. “I knew I wanted to be in the action sports and apparel industry from the age of 21,” Parsons recalls.
But it was a surf trip to Bali in 2004 that sparked the idea for Indosole. Inspired by locally made sandals featuring outsoles made from repurposed motorbike tires–the main mode of motorized transport in Indonesia and one of the largest contributors to the country’s huge waste management problem–he set out to find a way to make light, comfortable shoes while employing Balinese workers and using sustainable materials. He launched Indosole in 2010 and since then the brand has saved nearly 250,000 tires and counting from landfills.
“The environmental mission we are following has relevance on multiple levels and people can relate to it, mainly because there is a tire pollution problem in every country,” Parsons says. “Also, it’s our goal to give repurposed/up-cycled products a personality and fashion flair that has not been done, or at least not done well, in my opinion. Save a million tires and give people something they genuinely want to wear is our overall mantra.” For Spring ’15 that means functional shoes and sandals influenced by Indonesian culture with a California twist. “We wanted to have some fun, too, and integrate some colorful pieces that carry a traditional tribal look that all areas of the world can identify with,” he offers.
Q: What is your first shoe memory? A: I got a pair of Nike low-tops with a velcro strap across the top of the foot in 4th grade. I fell off my bike and scuffed them up on the first day and then searched for a magic marker that matched the color and tried to blend it in. I was crazy about shoes as a kid, and found myself mowing lawns and shoveling driveways through junior high school to save up for new Nikes.
Q: Who is your style icon? A: This is a tough one but I would say Richard Walcott and what he has created in Volcom is my inspiration. He was able to create a brand that seamlessly held a powerful impact on skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. It is not easy to be considered cool in the most snobby of sports.
Q: Which celebrities would you love to see in one of your designs? A: Our roots are in surfing so there are some icons in that industry I would love to see wearing some Indosoles. Also, movie stars are catching on to the need to be more resourceful and less wasteful. Stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Jessica Alba would look pretty good in our stuff!
Q: Where do you like to shop? A: I am all about supporting the little guys. I find myself walking into trendy young shops, to sell Indosole, but closing my sales pitch with a purchase for myself. The smaller eco boutiques and surf shops in California and Bali have a keen eye for what’s next in the industry and are also apt to have local and curated goods with purpose.
Q: Which shoes in your closet are getting the most wear? A: Our 2015 line will introduce a high-top named “Kota” which features a zipper on the side and inner tube from a bike tire on the toe cap and voxing. These shoes are so comfortable, stylish for urban wear, and versatile for city cruising or even skateboarding or riding a bike.
Q: What shoe must every man and/or woman have in their closet? A: Our Prahu boat shoe. It’s easy, comfy and machine washable because it’s meant to be worn without socks.
Q: Which trends do you hope to never see again? A: Sandals with socks. Was that a trend? It was probably more like old men who didn’t know better. In that case, let’s go with plastic gardening shoes which somehow became appropriate worldwide.
Q: Which designer do you admire the most? A: PM Tenore from RVCA.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job? A: Aside from the spontaneous lifestyle and the travel, I really enjoy connecting with customers and selling shoes to people one-on-one. One of our marketing campaigns has been setting up and selling at street markets and music festivals. It’s a great opportunity to tell our story and then watch a customer walk away in their new pair of Indosoles.
Q: If you could invite anyone, alive or dead, to dinner, who would it be? A: Bob Marley. Aside from making great music, he was a purist and I don’t remember ever listening to a Bob Marley tune and not feeling uplifted.
Q: What three things can you not live without? A: Sandals, sunglasses and Hawaiian Tropic sunblock.
Q: If you weren’t designing shoes, what would you be doing? A: Probably hitch-hiking back and forth between Lake Tahoe and the California coast (laughs).