Thanks to the rise of ath-leisure and the continued casualization of fashion, black leggings are now a staple in many women’s closets, and acceptable attire for a variety of situations. But what is the footwear answer to this evolution? This is a question that Roth Martin set out to answer when he established Rothy’s, a San Francisco-based sustainable shoe company.
In his quest to answer the question with a shoe that is both comfortable and stylish, Martin found himself asking a variety of other questions, challenging the way that the shoe industry has operated for decades. What he ended up doing was combining a knit fabric with a flexible sole, almost like a sock attached to the base of a sneaker. After trying but failing to produce what he wanted at Chinese factories and even a factory in Lewiston, Maine, Martin returned to China, eventually building a factory there that today employs 450 people. Rothy’s controls its entire supply chain of washable shoes made from recycled plastic water bottles.
But once Rothy’s had figured out production, the next step was to sell its product, which it first did from a stand at a San Francisco farmer’s market.
“In 2016, we built the Taj Mahal of tents next to eggplant dealers and Brussels sprout dealers, and we put out our shoes, hoping women would want to try them on, but not knowing whether they would or not,” Martin said.
The answer was, they did, and the tent soon had a queue of women waiting their turn. This led to explosive online sales and the eventual opening of a San Francisco flagship. In 2018, Rothy’s had $140 million in sales, 350 percent growth and sold more than 1 million pairs of shoes. And these aren’t the company’s only impressive statistics. It also repurposed more than 25 million plastic water bottles in just two years, and thanks to its innovative 3-D knit uppers it produces only 2.5 percent waste, while the industry average is 30 percent. But Martin and his team continue to push themselves to go even further.
“We’re always striving to do better, but less waste and more comfort results in better products,” Martin said. “Like a technology company, we’re constantly upgrading our versions. We’re not in it for one season.”