Minnesota online retailer launches shoe made from recycled bottles

Oliver Cabell is a homegrown online clothing company embarking on its most ambitious project yet: sneakers made from recycled plastic bottles on 3D printers.

The three-year-old company’s other shoes and handbags are made in Italy by manufacturers that owner Scott Gabrielson knows well. For the sneakers, the company had to sign a deal with a Chinese company because they have the know-how.

In the face of the Trump administration’s China tariffs – and the threat of more – Oliver Cabell will have to move its future production to another Asian country, most likely South Korea.

But the complications are worth it, Gabrielson said, both from a business standpoint and because he likes to be socially conscious.

“We’ve produced a lot of pairs … because customers have this change of heart,” he said.

His company isn’t the only one in the room either. Rothy’s, for example, is a San Francisco-based online retailer that specializes in women’s shoes made from recycled bottles and other recycled plastics.

Gabrielson said Rothys was the closest thing to his vision. But his shoe will also compete against versions of the major athletic shoe manufacturers like Nike and Converse, who have versions of their shoes made from recycled materials.

Oliver Cabell’s business model is to release a new item online every week rather than seasonal product lines. The new item could be a different color of an already released style or the first of a new design. Last week was the recycled sneaker.

Though Gabrielson didn’t release exact numbers, he said the company has been profitable, profits have funded most of its growth, and he expects sales of $10 million over the next 12 months. Oliver Cabell took out a $1.2 million convertible line of credit but used and repaid only $100,000 of it.

Most of the company’s marketing is word of mouth, with a 35% return rate for customers. The main customer base is in New York City, with only 5% in the Midwest.

But Oliver Cabell also invests heavily in social media marketing, including Facebook advertising, building Instagram followers, and partnering with influencers on Instagram and other platforms, Gabrielson said.

And following the example of other online brands, Oliver Cabell will open three small pop-up stores in major fashion districts like SoHo in New York City.

The brand is managed by six employees in Plymouth. Fulfillment is awarded to a Boston firm.

While most of Oliver Cabell’s shoes are traditionally made in Italian factories, the sneakers are 3D printed from recycled material made from “yarn” made from bottle fibers. The complicated process was developed by factories in China and other Asian countries.

“There’s a high bare minimum of technical know-how,” Gabrielson said.

His company spent two years developing the shoe, from design to finding the right contract manufacturer to making the shoe both fashionable and comfortable, he said.

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