TAIPEI, Taiwan — Confronted with an ever-growing pile of old newspapers, Taiwanese fashion designer Colin Lin came up with the idea of using them to make shoes and tote bags for her environmentally friendly footwear company.
Lin, 50, says they are now hot items in Taiwan as well as markets from the United States to Europe, finding a niche with green-minded customers who have a fondness for novelty.
Since the products were launched late last year, the firm has sold about 4,000 pairs of shoes made of recycled papers, Lin said, a fraction of its many lines of footwear.
Both the shoes and tote bags are very much in line with Lin's environmentally friendly approach to business – an approach that in recent years has led her to use fish skin and raffia as replacements for leather.
"My concern is for comfort, fashion and the environment," she said.
Lin's shoes and tote bags stand out in a crowd because they are replete with the telltale Chinese characters that are printed in Taiwanese newspapers and the colorful photos and advertisements that accompany them.
Both of the items go through a time consuming manufacturing process and neither comes cheap. A pair of paper shoes takes 3-4 hours to make and sells for $100-150, while a tote bag takes as much as 2-3 days and can go for up to $260.
"You can't imagine how many chemicals are used in each process of regular shoemaking," said Lin. "And I try to do away with them as much as possible."
To make her newspaper strips durable and sturdy, Lin attaches a cotton lining to the back, and adds a plastic coating to give them a shiny, waterproof finish. Then the woven top is attached to a plastic cap-toe and glued to a rubber sole.
The soft-spoken Lin, who has been in the shoemaking business for 26 years, publicly encourages her business rivals to follow her lead and think creatively about the connection between the environment and manufacturing.
"I only contribute very little to recycling all the newspapers dumped everyday around the world," she said. "But other footwear and bag manufacturers may want to copy my idea and so contribute their own share to dealing with the problem."