Footprints to the Future: Balena's Pioneering Partnership with Vivobarefoot

Balena news
January 23, 2024

In an industry often criticised for its environmental footprint, a step towards sustainability has been made.

Our portfolio company, Balena, a trailblazer in material science, and the leading barefoot footwear company, Vivobarefoot, have joined forces in an innovative partnership. This collaboration marks a significant milestone: the unveiling of the world's first 3D printed, made-to-measure, fully compostable footwear.

This is a huge breakthrough in fashion, and as covered in The Guardian, it's not just a new product; it's a system poised to reshape how we think about footwear and sustainability.

At Raw Ventures, we have always championed innovations that disrupt industries for the better. Our investment in Balena stems from a shared vision of a sustainable, scalable, and circular fashion industry. This latest development with Vivobarefoot is a testament to Balena’s commitment to solving some of the fashion industry's most pressing problems, particularly the issue of waste and reliance on non-biodegradable materials.

The Latest Breakthrough

The core of this breakthrough lies in Balena’s proprietary material, BioCir®flex, a compostable, biobased, recyclable thermoplastic. This material is the cornerstone of a visionary project that goes beyond just creating shoes; it reimagines the entire lifecycle of footwear. BioCir®flex’s properties ensure durability and performance while being kind to the planet at the product's end of life.

Asher Clark, Co-Founder and Design Director of Vivobarefoot, articulates the essence of this partnership: "The world doesn’t need new shoes. We need a new system and new materials. This future is literally at our feet, and this footwear will enable us to reconnect to nature, move as nature intended, and return footwear to nature when you’re done.” Balena underscores a shift from consumerism to stewardship, where our choices are aligned with ecological well-being.

With Vivobarefoot they are pioneering the VivoBiome system, a scan-to-print circular bare-footwear system that redefines the relationship between consumers and their shoes. This system, based on the principles of biomimicry, ensures a bespoke fit by scanning customers' feet and using these precise measurements for local, on-demand 3D printing. This approach not only personalises the footwear experience but reduces manufacturing waste and the carbon footprint associated with mass production and global shipping.

Backing Balena

At Raw Ventures, our investment philosophy is anchored in identifying and supporting companies that are challenging norms. Balena’s approach to sustainable materials, perfectly encapsulates this ethos. Our decision to invest in Balena was driven by their potential to disrupt the fashion industry, making it more sustainable, scalable, and circular – a vision we ardently share.While terms like ‘sustainable’ and ‘biodegradable’ are often overused in the fashion industry, Balena's approach is rooted in practicality and scientific innovation. Their materials are designed not just for use but for a responsible end-of-life, fully compostable in industrial settings. This demonstrates a deep understanding of the circular economy, moving beyond mere recycling to complete biological degradation, thus closing the loop in the product life cycle.

The Perfect Pair

Vivobarefoot brings a wealth of experience in creating shoes that prioritise foot health and natural movement. In their 11th year, Vivobarefoot sold 995,000 pairs of shoes, grew their community to over one million people and hit almost £75m of sales as the world starts to wake up and make nature and health more of a priority.Their designs, based on the principles of wide, thin, and flexible, encourage natural foot movement, a philosophy that extends to their approach to sustainability, making them an ideal partner for Balena.The scan-to-print system will kick off with a hub in the UK, with Germany and the US to follow. David Roubach, founder of Balena, heard Asher on stage announce his vision for VivoBiome 4 years ago, and the alignment between the two founders was clear. “We advocate for a clearer circular economy model - that's what Balena is all about. Seeing a collaboration with Vivobarefoot become a reality fills me with immense pride,” He says. At Raw Ventures, recognise that our investments have the power to shape industries, influence consumer behaviour, and make a tangible impact on the planet. Balena represents the type of company that not only promises a brighter future but is actively creating it. Their approach to tackling the fashion industry's sustainability crisis head-on resonates with our mission to support businesses that are not just profitable but also purposeful.