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Kiwi Biodegradable Shoe Start-up Wins Major International Award

Kiwi eco footwear start-up Orba - maker of the world-first sneaker designed to biodegrade - has achieved both national and international acclaim with two major award wins just six months after launching.

Orba’s Ghost sneaker took out the Sustainability category at the Global Footwear Awards and the Sustainable Product Design category at the Design Institute of NZ Best Design Awards, with judges commenting on the start-up’s “remarkable” and “outstanding” work.

The Global Footwear Awards recognise the world’s most exceptional footwear designs, with the Sustainability category evaluating creativity, design and innovation. It is judged by industry professionals from brands and publications like Vogue, Adidas, Vera Wang, Hugo Boss, Prada, GQ, and the MIT Institute of Design.

The Best Design Awards is an annual showcase of Kiwi excellence in graphic, spatial, product, digital and motion design, judged by respected design professionals.

Orba Co-Founder and Sustainability Manager Gillian Boucher says two wins for sustainability endorse their world-first, unique approach.

“We launched our Orba Ghost just six months ago, so to achieve both national and global recognition like this is incredibly exciting and validates our approach to design and sustainability, especially as the calibre of competition is so high,” she says.

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Orba Ghost is a stylish street sneaker made almost entirely of natural materials and is designed to biodegrade. The revolutionary result of a design process melding inspiration, aesthetics, technical excellence, ethics and environmentalism, almost every aspect of Orba shoes, from sole and upper to eyelets, stitching and lace-ends, is made from natural, biodegradable materials, with 94 per cent of it plant-based, including flax, kenaf (similar to hemp) and ramie (similar to thistle).

The company has developed a unique, bespoke bio-rubber sole made of natural rubber, rice husk ash and coconut oil. The insoles are made of cork, coconut husk and natural rubber - a formulation that is not only a global first but is designed to eliminate the problem of synthetic shoes disposed of in landfills, which can take 40 to 1000 years to break down and release contaminants during the process.

Feedback from Global Footwear Awards judges pointed to Orba’s originality, interesting design and application and thanked them for showcasing their “remarkable work”. They particularly liked the end-to-end approach where Orba-wearers can feel good knowing their shoes go back to nature - with Orba taking full responsibility for their end of life.

Comments from the Best Design Awards judges said compelling sustainable credentials combined with stylish design impressed them with the “thoroughness and effort taken to achieve the goal of a world-first mass-produced biodegradable shoe”.

Gillian Boucher says their approach goes deeper than just thinking about which materials to use and the impact the production of those materials can have.

“Orba’s materials were chosen with thought about the pesticide and irrigation impacts that crop farming can have on local communities,” she says.

“We’ve chosen some of the most highly renewable plant-based materials in the world and with a low carbon footprint. These have very low environmental impacts during farming and cultivation, and they don’t degrade our soils”.

The business also supports the communities it works with by funding training programs to help improve their efficiency and promote sustainable practices.

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