The trend of barely-more-than-barefoot shoes has involved some cognitive dissonance: They haven't tended to be priced that way. For Jimmy Tomczak, that was a reason to get inventive. "I loved the idea of Vibram's 'Five Fingers,' but there was no way I could afford their $100 price tag," says the young entrepreneur. He envisioned something more DIY, made from cheap, abundant materials. And looking around his home, he realized he had all sorts of strange products just begging to be turned into sandals. An early experiment with Tyvek envelopes didn't quite work. But then Tomczak tried billboard vinyl, left over from a roofing project (itself a recycling venture), and he realized he had his soles. "It's a triple-layered fiber-reinforced material," he says. "The stuff is pretty durable."
Out of that process came Paper-Feet sandals, ultra-lightweight and portable shoestuffs that feature all the weird flexibility and toughness you'd expect from a late-industrial material no one has been able to get rid of. Starting this summer, Tomczak plans to sell Paper-Feet for $5–15, marketing to the various groups seeking something just above nothing on their feet: beachgoers, gym users, residents of college dormitories. "We're also talking to the surfing crowd," he says. A second version will include slim rubber soles (also recycled, of course).
Fashion perhaps aside, it's an easy concept to love—Paper-Feet are also manufactured with worker-owned cooperatives—and it's easy to see it being scaled into a social solution. Tomczak is already aiming in that direction. Through his "send-to-a-friend" program, each buyer gets to give away a second pair. And if no friend comes to mind, he or she can direct that pair to someone who needs them more.