A Product Design BSc(Hons) graduate is tackling sustainability in both the motorsport and footwear industries with the launch of a new sneaker brand made from waste motorsport tyres.
Alex Witty, the 25-year-old founder of Compound Footwear, has designed a range of sneakers which use some of the 600,000 tyres motorsport tyres which reach the end of their use every season.
The range of sneakers combines tyre rubber with recycled natural rubber to create the soles. The uppers are made from waste leather and recycled polyester lining and laces. At the end of their natural life, Compound Footwear sneakers can be recycled into 100% reusable raw materials to make new shoes and products. The idea behind the project came to Alex while studying BSc(Hons) in Product Design at the University of Brighton.
As part of his studies he had already researched the footwear industry and developing manufacturing technology due to his project to design sneakers which would charge a mobile phone through the action of walking. Encouraged by the University’s entrepreneurship service Beepurple, he entered and won the Professor Fred Maillardet Breakthrough Award as well as a Santander Universities Growth Grant for his designs, which, he says, gave him the confidence to continue:
It gave me so much confidence to see your work not only backed by the Uni but also a big brand like Santander. Everyone has self-doubt and this is a stamp of approval telling you that you’re doing well – keep going.
When, during his third year he read that 1,800 brand new tyres were due to be incinerated owing to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix because of Covid, he realised that there was an opportunity to use his former research as the building blocks to something bigger.
I just thought, Wow! I knew rubber was used in footwear and I knew that I could find a better use for those tyres. Sustainable design and the circular economy were a big part of my course.
Since graduating, Alex has spent the last two years speaking to tyre manufacturers, shoe producers, material scientists and race series organisers, including Formula 1, plus doing extensive research into manufacturing techniques in order to create a unique, recyclable solution to the environmental pollution generated by both fast-fashion and tyre waste.
I didn’t take any time off after uni. I’d spent my placement year doing an entrepreneurship year trying to make contacts with my previous project so in a way I kind of knew what I had to do. I effectively became a sponge, learning how to adapt the idea and craft it. I also utilised as many free resources as I could; grants, pockets of money, awards, and attending events where I didn’t know anybody. I was like a truffle pig looking for opportunity and advice.
The hard work paid off and Alex now has the backing of many in the industry including F1 racetrack Silverstone. Compound Footwear’s launch coincides with a growing sustainability push in the tyre and motorsport industries, particularly Formula 1, which has committed to achieving Net Zero Carbon status by 2030.
Alex hopes to expand the range from footwear into other forms of clothing: “I’d like to create a circular clothing system from the Formula 1 teams by taking the discarded clothing and making it into new clothes.”
Alex’s lecturer Gareth Owen Lloyd says that his design is a great example of what the course tries to instil in students:
“Compound was Alex’s final project during his Product Design studies as a part of the Distributed Design studio for which I was his tutor. The studio focused on alternatives to mass-production and traditional consumption models and Alex’s design is a prime example. As the project’s tutor, it has been satisfying to see it progress from initial material experiments to product launch. Since graduation, Alex has achieved notable milestones, including securing an Innovate UK grant. We are so proud of his accomplishments and look forward to the launch of his product. From everyone here at Brighton, we wish him the best of luck on this exciting journey.”
The first range of Compound Footwear sneakers will launch on 24 October 2023 via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Early supporters will enjoy exclusive, limited-edition sneakers and clothing at special launch prices. For every pair of shoes the company sells it also pledges to donate funds to preserve 100sqm of Ecuadorian rainforest.