The Blueview project seems to be a meeting point of ideas. Stephen, you are a molecular biologist. Tom, you have been in the footwear industry for decades. How did you gentlemen meet? How did the idea come about? Over a beer? Over a coffee? Over years?
Steve: Funny enough... over coffee. Algenesis (Blueview's parent company) had been in discussions with Reef where Tom worked, about using our polymers in their flip-flops. One day the negotiations were going especially slow, and I said to Tom and one of his co-workers: hey, if we can't get to a reasonable place with existing brands what do you guys think about joining Algenesis, and we make our own shoe? Tom was very intrigued by that idea.
Tom: Ultimately, we made the Reef deal happen. But the idea to launch our own footwear brand kind of stuck in Steve's and my heads. We liked the idea of being able to control our own destiny and take the technology to its highest and best use on a timeline that suited us. Ultimately Steve made me an offer I couldn’t refuse! I’m honoured to help lead the transition to renewable and biodegradable materials in the footwear industry. We are leading by example and intend to share the technology.
The Blueview Pacific emphasises on the technology, comfort and durability. But what was it that you started the idea with? That it should be biodegradable, and that comfort+durability would be the additional binding factors?
Steve: We started with the material, that it needed to come from plants, and that it needed to be biodegradable. Then we developed polyurethane foams that meet specification for high performance footwear, then we (Tom) designed a shoe that was stylish and *very* comfortable.
Tom: Yeah you’ve got it right. We understand why people buy shoes, so things like styling, comfort, fit, and quality are table stakes. We also understand that customers are demanding a lot more effort from companies on the ESG side. People fall in love with brands for the good they do in the world, whatever form that might take. Combining these two ideas is powerful, we call it the green bundle. Our unique contribution is next generation bio-based and biodegradable material technologies that are high quality and durable. The materials Steve and his team invented allowed us to create the world’s first biodegradable and durable sneakers with Blueview. For every pair we sell, that is one less toxic forever plastic shoe that is sold.
How did you go about setting up the business? How did you raise funds, and where did all the research work take place? Was it at the Mayfield Lab itself, or did you work at your own setup? Most important: from concept to product... how long did it take?
Steve: We spent six years and over $15 million dollars in government grant awards to get the materials right (we are still funded by the DOE), that work took place at our labs at UCSD (University of California San Diego) in La Jolla. Then we hired Tom and his footwear team, and then we raised money to develop and sell the shoe.
Tom: Yup, from initial concept to actual market launch took over six years. Commercialising the Soleic polyurethane technology at the factory had to happen virtually over Zoom during a global pandemic…which was one of the most difficult projects of our entire careers. We always joke and say that accomplishment needs to go right at the top of our resumes in bold cap letters! I’m still amazed we were able to pull it off without being in the factory.