Oliver Cabell is a homegrown online apparel company embarking on its most ambitious project to date: sneakers made from recycled plastic bottles on 3-D printers.
The three-year-old company’s other shoes and purses are made in Italy by manufacturers that owner Scott Gabrielson knows well. For the sneakers, the company had to contract with a Chinese company because that is where the expertise is.
Given the Trump administration’s China tariffs — and the threat of more — Oliver Cabell will need to take its future manufacturing to another Asian country, most likely South Korea.
But the complications are worth it, Gabrielson said, both from a business perspective and because he wants to be socially conscious.
“We produced a lot of pairs … because customers are having this mindshift change,” he said.
His company also is not the only one in the space. Rothy’s, for example, is a San Francisco online retailer that specializes in women’s shoes made of recycled bottles and other recycled plastics.
Gabrielson said Rothy’s is the closest to his vision. But his shoe also will compete against versions from the big athletic shoemakers such as Nike and Converse that have versions of their shoes made from recycled materials.
Oliver Cabell’s business model is to release a new item online each week instead of seasonal product lines. The new item could be a different color of a style already released or the first of a new design. Last week’s was the recycled sneaker.
Although Gabrielson did not release exact figures, he said the company has been profitable, the earnings have funded most of the growth, and he expects to reach $10 million in sales over the next 12 months. Oliver Cabell did take out a $1.2 million line of convertible credit but has used only $100,000 of it and has paid that back.
Most of the company’s marketing is word-of-mouth, with a 35% return rate for customers. The main customer base is in New York City, with only 5% in the Midwest.
But Oliver Cabell also heavily invests in social media marketing, including Facebook ads, building Instagram followers and working with influencers on Instagram and other platforms, Gabrielson said.
And following the lead of other online brands, Oliver Cabell will be opening three small pop-up stores in major fashion neighborhoods, such as New York City’s SoHo.
The brand is led by six employees in Plymouth. Fulfillment is contracted to a firm in Boston.
While most of Oliver Cabell’s shoes are made traditionally in Italian factories, the recycled material sneakers are 3-D printed from “yarn” made out of the bottle fibers. The complicated process has been developed by factories in China and other Asian nations.
“There are high minimums of technical know-how,” Gabrielson said.
His company worked two years on developing the shoe, from design to finding the right contract manufacturer and making the shoe both fashionable and comfortable, he said.