An Interview with Primal Soles Founder, David Even
David Even founded PRIMAL Soles in 2021 after multiple years in startups in Europe and the United States. His goal was to create a fully circular product that would tackle personal and environmental health, two topics he is very passionate about. In January 2023, David and PRIMAL Soles were awarded the Financial Times 2023 Responsible Business Education Awards, in the student-led category, an award recognizing responsible businesses and their impact in revolutionizing their respective industries. We had the opportunity to ask David about his incredible brand and what inspires him to keep moving forward.
ConsiderBeyond: Tell us about the first moment you thought about the idea that led to Primal Soles. What triggered you to actually turn your idea into a real-life product?
David Even: The first time I thought about Primal Soles was back in September 2021. The name actually came way later. I had just quit my perfectly fine job and was reading the book “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. I was forcing the necessity to create something upon me. I wanted to create a product or service that would inspire people to move more and discover the world, all the while minimizing our negative footprint on our Planet. The result is Primal Soles.
I had always been a user of shoe inserts so I had first-hand experience of the improved comfort they offer. I began researching the market and found a gap in the market for high performance, sustainable, recyclable insoles. A week later, I was on my way to Portugal to research suppliers for cork insoles.
CB: What has that journey been like so far?
DE: Exciting and challenging. A few months ago, we were chosen as one of the top student-led projects for the Financial Times’ Responsible Business Education Awards, hosted at the World Economic Forum’s SDG Tent in Davos. This has been the tipping point for us. We never expected to be recognized for our mission so soon.
Following these awards we consequently got a donation which has given us access to much needed funds, knowledge and networks. Being a responsible business is tough, but remaining true to your values enables you opportunities that non-circular businesses will never gain access to. The message here is that with the right amount of responsibility, hard work and - of course - luck you will be able to set your own path on a mission to make the world a better place for the next generations to come.
CB: Tell us about yourself and how your background has led you to where you are
DE: Life is just an accumulation of experiences. In my case, I started building “out of the ordinary” experiences the moment I turned 18 and decided to leave my home, my comfort zone. Being curious by nature plus the fact that my grandparents are from many parts of the world, I traveled to Guatemala - alone. This was a very defining trip for me and it determined my path for the next decade all the way to where I am today.
Our goal with Primal is to inspire movement, exploration and travel while leaving our Planet in a better state than when we entered it.
CB: What inspires you daily, and what values are important to you?
DE: Having your own startup is hard. It is also unbelievably empowering. What I enjoy most is seeing the people around us being inspired to do better, which in turn inspires us again to keep moving forward. At the end of the day, business all comes down to the people you work with. Good business is often tied to good people, people that have long-term visions and care about more than personal gains alone.
At Primal we value integrity first and foremost. We either work with good people or we inspire people around us, such as our suppliers, to start being better in their day-to-day activities. Most people we deal with see also very clearly that sustainable business is the future so it makes sense to them economically. Personally, I am a big believer in autonomy and responsibility. Don’t tell people how to do their job. That’s what you’re hiring them for. Rather, tell them where you want to go and give them the tools to get there. I don’t care for all the standard industry practices of working 40 hours a week from one location. I have never been a big supporter of that model. If you can provide value and results in 20 hours while surfing in Sulawesi (Indonesia) the rest of the time - let’s do it! We want people to go out of their comfort zones, see the beauty of our natural world, and inspire our customers that consumerism and nature-positivity do not need to be mutually exclusive.
CB: Sustainability is a broad topic, what are you specifically interested in?
DE: Our main point of focus is circularity and the product life cycle. Through education and awareness, we want to empower consumers to make conscious choices, while inspiring manufacturers to prioritize durability and design for recyclability. Together, we can drive positive change, reduce waste, and promote the circular economy, forging a path towards a greener and more sustainable world.
Being a cork insoles brand, we kind of grew into a product where the more it is used the better it is for our Planet. That is highly unusual. The reason behind this is not just because we have a circular business model. It’s mainly because cork is a naturally regenerative material that is endlessly recyclable. By being the bark of the cork oak tree, it is naturally CO2 negative and a great contributor to the biodiversity (only 1 of 36 biodiversity hotspots left on our Planet) and cultural heritage of the Mediterranean basin, where the cork oak tree - the Quercus suber - is endemic to. For each ton of cork produced, the cork oak tree is able to sequester 73 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. In many ways, the cork tree is the most generous tree known in our ecosystem. This is also why we plan to reforest 1000 hectares in collaboration with REplanet.
CB: What were the main problems with shoe soles that you set out to tackle?
DE: Insoles are the easiest and cheapest way to improve comfort and prevent injuries. The problem is insoles wear out! Ideally, you should replace your cork insoles every 6 months or 1 million steps. Shoe inserts are primarily made from foams, gels, plastics, and leather – none of which can easily be recycled. All those used synthetic insoles end up in landfill lasting for generations. Every year, hundreds of millions of insoles get thrown away and the size of this waste is as big as the country of New Zealand. This is the problem we aim to solve.
CB: Tell us about the product life cycle of Primal Soles and how you made the process more sustainable.
DE: Our main raw material is cork. We source our cork insoles in Portugal from the most sustainable cork producers in the world. Fun (and important) fact: harvesting cork does not harm the cork oak tree. In fact, it supports the tree’s ability to regenerate and absorb more CO2 out of the atmosphere making cork a CO2 negative material.
The ability to recycle Primal Soles was central to the design process so we chose a mix of materials that allow for the soles to be ground up and reintroduced into the production cycle at the end of their lifecycle.
We encourage our consumers to send back their used products, for free. Used Primal Soles are sent back to our supplier where they are ground up and finally incorporated into the bottom layer of new Primal Soles.
CB: Primal Soles recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign. Tell us about that journey and what you learned from your backers.
DE: We launched our second Kickstarter campaign in May and we have been so happy with the result! Kickstarter is an amazing way to get your product in front of so many people while giving you the opportunity to share the whole story and process behind the product.
The most important thing for us is the feedback we get from our Kickstarter backers. Most of them appreciate Primal Soles for the opportunity to choose a sustainable product at an affordable price point. Oftentimes, sustainability may seem to be a “luxury” as sustainable products come at a higher price. We wanted to make sustainable insoles as accessible as possible so we chose to cover some of the costs like the cost of shipping them back.
CB: What keeps you excited about the future of Primal Soles?
DE: The number one thing is the size of the impact we could have in our world. Our mission is to prevent 1M insoles from reaching landfill in the next five years by giving people a sustainable, recyclable alternative. Besides this, we have some very interesting projects in the works currently. Think partnerships with leading global shoe companies to replace their current foam insoles with Primal Soles. Think partnerships with global hotel chains to replace their single use foam slippers with fully recyclable cork Primal Slippers.
We are very lucky to work with the people we work with. Being surrounded by like-minded people empowers one another and elevates our abilities as we aim to create real impact during our lifetime on this Planet Earth.
CB: Tell us about the plans of Primal Soles this year and how you plan to build relationships with your fans worldwide.
DE: We are focusing on our B2B channels with the goal of increasing our reach and eventually our impact. We will continue to listen to feedback and redesign our product with our customers’ satisfaction in mind. We also want to do more in-person events and meet our customers in person.
We are really excited about meeting more people and bringing the brand closer to consumers. One of the near-term projects that we have is a pop-up event in the center of Amsterdam on the weekend of June 9 to 11 together with two other sustainable brands. It’s at events like these where we can meet potential new customers and learn first-hand about the motivations behind why people would want our products. At this event in particular, we will donate all proceeds to the reforestation project we are working towards together with REplanet and Cortiçeira Amorim as we aim to reforest 1000 hectares of cork oak forest in Portugal.
CB: What triggered you to work with ConsiderBeyond? Where do you see the synergy effect?
DE: We really believe that the way for sustainable brands to thrive is collaboration. ConsiderBeyond is a platform that shines the spotlight on brands that aim to make a difference in this world. It is also a great way for us to get in front of conscious consumers that are looking for sustainable solutions.
At the end of the day, we are only as strong as the people around us. As sustainable brands remain the exception to the rule, we must stand strong together in order to bring real change about. This is why we value what ConsiderBeyond is working towards and we are happy to become part of the community.
CB: Do you have a life quote?
DE: I have many quotes I keep in my notes. I am also a daily reader of the Daily Stoic, so it’s tough to give one quote only. Here are three quotes that I live by:
- “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind-set that created them” Albert Einstein
- “Life is short - the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good … Get busy with life's purpose, get active in your own rescue, and do it while you can" Marcus Aurelius
- “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open” Frank Zappa
Learn more about Primal Soles and their amazing products by visiting their brand profile on the ConsiderBeyond website.