In March 2022, OrthoLite revealed Cirql, the world’s first EVA plastics-free, recyclable and industrially compostable midsole foam. Cirql is a soil-to-soil materials solution that combats waste and pollution in footwear and it is ground-breaking; but only if scalable.
With 25 years serving the global footwear industry with sustainable shoe solutions and deep business partnership, OrthoLite’s team knew Cirql as a stand-alone circular material was simply not enough. Commercialization is a tough, long road and to make Cirql scalable, a best-in-class manufacturing and development headquarters was of equal importance.
Enter the Cirql Center of Excellence. It debuted in tandem with the introduction of Cirql and serves as both the manufacturing home for Cirql and a testing ground for exploring new pathways to more sustainable production for the entire footwear industry.
“Big goals require big commitments and we’re 100-percent ‘in’ when it comes to commercializing an innovation that has the potential to build such an incredible positive impact for the footwear industry,” explains Glenn Barrett, CEO and Founder of OrthoLite. “Our Center of Excellence in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, ensures scalability will be part of the value equation of Cirql.”
OrthoLite’s quarter century of experience informs the best-in-class operational and production approaches at the Cirql Center of Excellence. A new blueprint had to be created to support the commercialization of Cirql and to build that, a team of A-Players needed to be assembled.
Local Talent and Supporting the Local Economy
Matt Smith was hired in 2021 to lead OrthoLite Cirql as the general manager and vice president. His very first task was to build a world-class team. Matt has an expansive network developed through 23 years in the footwear industry.
Where did he go to secure a large percentage of his top-tier leadership team? Vietnam.
Smith explains, “We’ve secured major talent and expertise because we are all so unified by the mission of Cirql. It’s a world-class team that hails from all over the globe. I’m especially proud that 50-percent of the leadership team is Vietnamese. They are local, high-level managers and function leaders.”
For reasons having nothing to do with talent, executives across the big snapshot of global manufacturing tend toward foreign born. Smith and Cirql are bucking this trend by actively seeking and promoting Vietnamese professionals.
“Our people are our most important asset, and providing a rewarding, safe, and healthy work environment is one of my top priorities,” says Smith. “I want careers here to be long-term, marked by good health, happiness, and prosperity. The idea of sustainability applies to the workplace, too.”
A More Energy Efficient Building
While Cirql was still in development, the building in Ho Chi Minh City was already being retrofitted with a full solar array. Over 4,300 solar panels provide a 2 megawatt power capacity.
The installation has ticked several degrees off the interior temperature, creating a more comfortable working environment for our team.
Zero Waste Production
OrhoLite is committed to achieve company-wide, zero waste production. The Center of Excellence is already there.
OrthoLite Cirql is both polymer and process. The two can’t be separated because every step is intentionally designed and calibrated to uphold the promise of cleaner, chemical-free manufacturing.
OrthoLite Cirql uses a groundbreaking chemical-free foaming process. Whereas conventional and EVA-plastic foams are made by injecting up to 15 new, and often toxic, chemicals into the process, Cirql uses heat, speed, pressure, and a bit of nitrogen gas (the same as the air we breathe).
It’s fast with no curing time. It’s a safer environment for factory workers. The quality of the foam is exceptional, and the end product is completely free of persistent chemicals.
A Higher Standard for Evolving Standard Operating Procedures
To grasp the potential and integrity of Cirql and the Center of Excellence, it’s valuable to understand how it’s made and how every detail of the process is continuously being evaluated for improvement – be it sustainability, quality, or efficiency.
Exacting standard operating procedures are being tested and improved daily at the Center of Excellence. From polymer to process to molds, our team is building exacting and transparent standards for quality, aesthetics, performance and sustainability. Consistency is the crux, Smith says.
“Creating repeatable and scalable results from the first run to the last is absolutely central to the success of Cirql as a circular materials solution. We’re aiming to establish the Center as the model to create efficiency and consistency for our future brand and factories.”
Measurable Results in Sustainability: The Higg Index
The Center of Excellence, as part of OrthoLite’s overall mission, voluntarily contributes data and reporting to The Higg Index. The Higg Index is a tool for footwear and apparel manufacturers to gauge environmental and social wellness management. It is the most sophisticated tool available for manufacturers to secure a cleaner, healthier future for people and for the planet.
Stepping Into the Future
OrthoLite Cirql and the Center of Excellence will revolutionize how all manufacturers make shoes.
“We’re here to light the way to show our colleagues in the global footwear industry that modern footwear can have a soil-to-soil, end of life solution,” Barrett adds. “We’re not waiting to learn about better approaches. We’re actively developing scalable solutions that can be implemented consistently by others in the footwear supply chain.”
Center of Excellence is a name that’s intentionally aspirational. The OrthoLite and Cirql teams are committed to investing in the Center and the quality of the product being produced there because we’re committed to furthering sustainability in footwear.
Together, we can all be part of a better future.