Interview with Karla Peckett, SOLE/ReCORK

Image introducing an interview with Karla Peckett of SOLE/ReCORK

Can you tell us a little bit about your background that has led you to this point?

Originally from Calgary, Alberta, I am an Alberta College of Art and Design graduate and a former design company owner who now calls Vancouver, BC my home. My work as a Creative Director has always been fueled by my passion for contemporary design and my values around sustainability. I fell in love with footwear at a young age, being labeled a "Sneakerhead" many years ago by all of my friends. When I came across a footwear company that was not only focused on being great for your feet, but great for the planet too, I knew I had found my home.

Tell us about your product/brand and the inspiration behind it?

At SOLE, our goal has always been to provide our users with the best possible experience while having the least possible impact on the environment. We’ve relentlessly pursued our goals by embracing new technologies, devising innovative formulations, sourcing superior materials, enforcing stringent quality and environmental standards, and simply believing that status quo is not good enough and something had to change, for the sake of the planet.

SOLE has been making industry-leading footbeds for over 20 years out of high grade EVA that is continuously variable durometer, neutral support, dynamic flexibility and zero drop that are both heat and wear moldable. It was weighing heavy on us that SOLE and all other footbed/insole brands did not really have a sustainable product range available. SOLE immediately began using 20-25% recycled EVA in our most popular Active collection, but we felt this was just a starting off point, so we began to immediately explore other more eco-friendly material options to make our footbeds out of. 

Researching new ways to increase the recycled content in our products led us to natural cork. Cork pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and locks it away, and is also an excellent replacement for petroleum-based components.

Almost a decade ago, we at the SOLE family began a journey down a new sustainable path and committed ourselves to providing quality orthopedic products without sacrificing the environment. The vision—to pioneer a closed-loop manufacturing process by reusing a natural, sustainable and renewable resource. That resource—used natural wine corks.

It has been a long, amazing journey to get to this point. In 2008, we launched ReCORK- today, it is North America's largest cork recycling program. With the help of our network of thousands of partners and believers, we have planted more than 8,000 cork oak trees and collected over 100 million wine corks.

How does sustainability play a role in your brand/product development? How important has this been to consumers?

Now, more than ever before, sustainability has to be a major focus. Not just because the consumer demands it more than ever before, but because we as a species are pushing our planet to a point of no return. We see huge opportunity in combining natural materials with human innovation, making the most of what nature has given us in a way that allows us to achieve the same functional, durable properties we desire and require in footwear that’s going to be comfortable and good for people’s feet. This lead to the development of our new ReCORK formula: a way of recycling cork into a material that’s flexible, durable, lightweight and cushioning. It’s a material unlike anything ever seen before, and something that can effectively replace harmful petroleum-based foams like EVA. It’s crucial that we give consumers something that both cares for the planet and provides the essential functionality they’re looking for, without sacrificing the emphasis on comfort and support that has driven SOLE since day one.

Someone holding a handful of corks that can be turned into SOLEs

Woman holding up a cork in front of an all black background

More fun images of corks

What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet?

It’s not a matter of people’s thoughts. It’s also not a matter of the future. It’s a matter of the immediate pressing reality: we have to act now to change the way we produce and consume as a species, act to change the way we think about the planet we live on, act to make the environment a consideration in our everyday choices. The problem is now. It’s already here. It’s already happening.

How does technology and innovation play a role in your business?

Innovation plays a massive role. Whether it be innovating a product design that will bring comfort to millions of people at an affordable cost or innovating a material that has never been seen before, it’s crucial to keep moving forward. 

Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind?

I’d like SOLE to have been the brand to show the world that it really is possible to replace petroleum-based foams and plastics with a natural, sustainable alternative. I’d like us to be remembered as the founders of ReCORK, the very first to make a shoe with a ReCORK midsole and pioneers of a material that changed the world for the better.

A bearded man holding up a completed SOLE insole

Various examples of final SOLE/ReCORK products

More stylized images of SOLE/ReCORK products paired with other clothing items

What message do you have for those starting their own business in regards to sustainability and innovation?

Keep focused, keep committed and look for ways to collaborate with others. Brands working together to produce a better alternative to what has come before is more common than ever. 

What brands do you admire?

Patagonia, for the simple fact that they are at the forefront of making world-leading gear in a way that pulls no punches when it comes to taking the environment seriously.

How important do you think transparency and authenticity in brands is to consumers?

I think it’s incredibly important, especially within particular spaces. In the outdoor industry in particular, consumers want to know at what cost their gear has been produced, and to what extent the things they buy and the brands they support align with their ideals. 

Outdoor shot of someone holding corks and wearing ReCORK sandals

Demonstration images of the cork collection and recycling process

Close up shot of the cork recycling box

What is your favorite animal and why?

The dung beetle. They’re nature’s most important recyclers. They’re found on every continent on Earth other than Antarctica, working tirelessly to return nutrients to the earth and clean away the waste products of other, more glamorous creatures. 

What does wilderness mean to you?

Wilderness to me is a place to respect, a place to explore and to restore. It is a complete reflection of what we fight for day to day and why we need to advocate change. Somewhere to be inspired, to push the limits and reach higher. I look to the wild for a place to run free, but most importantly, leave no trace.

What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind?

Single-use plastics, hands down. Since China stopped taking a lot of our plastic waste, consumers are confused and frustrated when it comes to recycling. We need to start thinking about wasting less and reusing the products we consume to avoid waste all together.

Image of individuals wearing SOLE/ReCORK's United By Blue collaboration shoes

Final, stylized shot of individuals wearing SOLE/ReCORK products