Why This Canadian Entrepreneur Launched a Sustainable Footwear Brand
When your goal is to make the world a better place, every interaction is an opportunity to create change. Just ask Christal Earle, founder of the sustainable fashion brand Brave Soles.
Since 2005, Earle had been living and working with migrant workers at a landfill on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. More than a decade later, a chance encounter sparked a truly impactful idea, for the environment and the health of the community.
“One day my neighbour came out of her apartment and she was wearing these cute sandals [with soles made from tires],” Earle recalls. “I was like ‘oh, I love your shoes,’ and then it hit me like a lightning bolt.”
The risks associated with discarded tires
During her time in the Dominican Republic, Earle became keenly aware of the problems posed by discarded tires. “Globally, we produce almost two billion tires a year.” she says. “You can get a little tiny hole in a tire and the whole thing needs to be discarded. Working in a landfill, it’s very jarring to see how things reach their end of life long before they ever reach their end of use.”
By the time she noticed her neighbour’s shoes, the tire problem had already been on Earle’s mind for a long time. “Tires are made of rubber,” she says, “but they also have a lot of plastic in them that degrades down into microplastics.” When they’re burned—as they often are in places that lack recycling facilities—they release toxins into the air and when they are left in landfills, they pool water and act as breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. “Some of the people I was working with were dying from those diseases or their kids were getting sick,” Earle says.
So when she saw her neighbour’s shoes, Earle’s first thought was, “Oh my god, how did I not think of this before?”
She quickly got to work, launching Brave Soles in a matter of months with just $250. “On the first day, I sold 39 pairs all over the world,” she says.
But to truly have an impact, Earle knew it wasn’t enough just to put out an innovative new product—she had to be able to quantify what she was doing. “What gets measured gets valued,” she says.
Seizing financial opportunities
Back in Canada, she partnered with organizations, including BMO, to learn how she could best scale her mission and grow her impact. “I started a fashion company because I wanted to provide the opportunity for people to experience the power of their choices,” Earle says.
Earle discovered the BMO Celebrating Women Grant Program through IFundWomen, an online platform dedicated to female entrepreneur funding. Using a $10,000 grant, she’s been able to take an even closer look at her own processes to better align them to her goal of creating truly circular fashion. “You can’t say something is 100 per cent upcycled unless it is,” she says. “With our BMO grant, we’ve found new efficiencies in our supply chain to source things like reclaimed zippers and buckles. We plan to launch an accessories line that’s 100 per cent reclaimed this spring.”
Earle says BMO has been instrumental in helping build her relationships with Coralus and Export Development Canada–two vital partnerships needed to run her business and support women. “Due to these connections, we are a 2023 venture with Coralus.” BMO also gave her a membership to GroYourBiz–a monthly peer advisory board for women in business. “Those relationships have been super valuable,” she says.
For Earle, that ability to create meaningful change without a ton of resources is one of the great joys of operating as a small business.
“There’s nothing new under the sun,” she says. “I don’t think we ever need to create another new piece of clothing again. But as an entrepreneur, I see endless opportunities to reclaim things and have a greater imagination around how things can be used.”