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Interview: A Chat with the Brothers Behind Subs

If you follow my Instagram or read my blogs, you know I love to spend time at the beach. Whenever I have free time, you can usually find me doing something at the ocean.

On some days, the beach will be full of trash. Most of the trash on the beach comes from the ocean. It usually gets cleaned up in a few days by local volunteers or clean up crews.

I recently heard about a Taiwan based company that uses recycled plastic to create flip flops. Subs uses recycled plastic to create flip flops. With each purchase, they promise to remove 1lb or 1/2 kg of trash from the beach.

Every purchase also provides support for one child in need for a month through their partnership with KidsCan. I wanted to learn more about this company so I reached out to the two brothers behind the company, Justin and Andrew Lambie.

If you are interested in purchasing a pair of Subs Flip Flops, you can buy them here.

  A break down on how Subs sources and processes plastic waste to use in the production of Subs' flip-flops.
 A break down on how Subs sources and processes plastic waste to use in the production of Subs’ flip-flops.

Can you tell me about the people behind Subs?

Justin: I am the founder of Subs and my younger brother Andrew Lambie joined me when I pitched the idea to start this company to him back in April 2016, right around the time I was booted out of my last flip-flop company that I co-founded in 2012 with another Kiwi.

Where did the idea originate from?

Justin: Originally I was part of another flip-flop company in Taiwan, and my Kiwi partner ruthlessly stole the business from me after 5 years of working together.

At that time, plastic pollution was all over the news, and being in the footwear industry for a while, I knew about plastic injection flip-flops, and wondered if there was such a thing as recycled plastic (injection) flip-flops with a view to tackling plastic pollution at the same time, we are talking late 2015 here, before we’d even heard of 4Ocean.

As it became increasingly obvious that I was to be booted out of my own company, I started researching this idea, and came up with Subs.

The concept behind Subs was to create a link between you, the product, the recycled materials we use and the ocean; substituting virgin materials with recycled where possible, and naturally submarines you won’t find on land too often. And Subs was born!

 Visiting Canon Beach, Oregon, USA. 
Visiting Canon Beach, Oregon, USA. 

How did you get involved with KidsCan and why did you choose them to partner with?

Andrew: We got involved with KidsCan because of an NZ actor (James Trevena-Brown), he emailed us one day saying that he was basically wanting to do exactly what we were already doing but have the profits go to a children’s charity, his mother works as a school principal and is aware of the plight of low/no income families’ children and she runs quite a good program to make sure they all get lunch etc etc. Originally he wanted to start a new charity for it but there wasn’t much point as we could just use an existing one that already does a great job, which was KidsCan.

How does Subs measure the amount of garbage collected?

Andrew: At all our beach cleans we separate the recyclables from the trash and weigh it all with our scales

 Beach clean volunteers and waste removal workers celebrate our large haul of marine debris, including recyclable plastics to go for further processing, from Da'an Beach, Taichung.
Beach clean volunteers and waste removal workers celebrate our large haul of marine debris, including recyclable plastics to go for further processing, from Da’an Beach, Taichung.

What do you think of companies like 4Ocean that have much more resources but only guarantee the removal of a 1lb of garbage per bracelet?

Andrew: Although I’m not big on bracelets in general what 4Ocean is doing is also very good for the environment, if anything they’re bringing much more awareness to people that may not have otherwise known about it.

Do you operated as a for-profit company or non-profit entity?

Justin: We operate ‘Taiwan Beach Cleanup’ as a non-profit group, and Subs is for a for profit entity.

Why did you choose this path over the non-profit path?

Andrew: Funding, Non profits rely on donations or government funding of which we had neither and this is all we do so we don’t have other jobs that can pay the bills.

What percentage of the profit is reinvested into trash cleanup?

Justin: More than enough to cover the amount that we pledge to remove for every pair sold, which is the same as 4Ocean’s and we are considering to increase our amount per pair sold too, to 1 kg/pair. At this stage, we have removed a lot more marine debris than our pledge requires per pair sold, but we keep on doing it, and are happy to be well ahead on it.

 One of Subs' first ever large scale clean ups at Da'an Beach, Taichung.
One of Subs’ first ever large scale clean ups at Da’an Beach, Taichung.

Why did you choose Taiwan as your manufacturing location?

Andrew: Excellent manufacturing base already here, non-existent in our home country, shoes specifically. Taiwan also takes a lot of other countries plastic and recycles it for them. Plus Justin was already here and had a lot of potential factory contacts.

How can people find out about trash-cleanup events in Taiwan? Where is the best place to keep up with the latest Subs events?

Andrew: They can follow our social media, all of our events are listed on Facebook primarily

Do you plan on establishing a upcycle location in Taiwan?

Andrew: Yes, we already have one, our manufacturing HQ, the address is on our website. All worn out pairs of Subs can be returned to us and re-purposed into new pairs, we’ll give a discount on the next pair.

Are there any Taiwanese beach cleanup organizations that you think people should check out?

Andrew: There are a few annual ones, we did a co-op with them recently you can read about them and the event here. Usually, we have other companies asking us to sponsor an event for them which we do quite a bit.

Any plans on releasing a Taiwan inspired design?

Andrew: Kind of, we are planning on doing all the 12 lunar zodiac signs, so right now we have the little pig which has a pig printed on the side and the Chinese character for Pig. We have some new tech available so we might soon be able to do full top sole prints so it would be easy to do the Taiwanese flag etc.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions about Subs. I’m really glad I found out about your company and I plan on ordering my own pair.

Andrew and Justin: No worries!

 Subs at a beach resort in Colombia.
Subs at a beach resort in Colombia.