A husband and wife in Oregon have designed baby shoes that melt away into water after an infant outgrows them.
The silky fabric is actually made of a kind of water-soluble plastic that covers detergent pods, cosmetic products, and pill coatings, but is designed to last through the use of two infants so as to retain hand-me-down potential.
Known as “Woolybubs,” the shoes start at $34 for crawlers, and $40 for walkers, and Jesse Milliken and Wife Meghan took pains to ensure that just because they dissolve in water, doesn’t mean they’re fragile. They’re baby tested, and baby approved, and no matter how much an infant feels it’s necessary to chew on them, they will not break apart.
Landfill waste among the textile and fashion industries is extreme, and nowhere is this more apparent than infant-through-Kindergarten clothing, when the clothes have a best-by date guaranteed by the child’s physical growth.
The founder’s claim that 300 million pairs of shoes end up in landfills each year, each taking 40 years to decompose.
As parents of three, this made the Millikens feel guilty for all the unnecessary landfill waste they were contributing. Husband Jesse decided to leave his position at Nike to bring his footwear experience to the niche of baby-booties, and Woolybubs was born.
“It took us almost a year to develop this fabric that was durable enough,” Jesse Milliken told Fast Company. “It’s kind of ironic to use the word durable for babies, but durable enough to last and stand up to baby wear and tear, and then ultimately still break down and degrade in the right conditions.”
The silk-like material utilizes polyvinyl alcohol, or (PVA), a biodegradable and water-soluble plastic in every component so that it dissolves altogether in boiling water.
The Millikens are commissioning a study to investigate whether the PVA used in their shoes turns into totally nothing, or as some researchers believe, a solution that requires special bacteria to break apart. This point is debated. If it’s true, then the dissolved plastic would remain in the water supply long after it’s dumped down the drain since wastewater plants aren’t designed to account for a PVA solution.
However other researchers have found it does both dissolve and biodegrade, leaving nothing harmful in its wake.
Still, for those toddlers who begin to walk, they’ve designed a shoe made of 100% recycled plastic that can be shipped back to the company for future recycling when the toddler outgrows them, and Woolybubs have commissioned a separate study to look at whether their shoes will biodegrade in landfills or compost piles.
“We are always looking for innovative solutions to improve the environmental impact to the planet,” Milliken says.