RUNNING WITH RUBBISH SHOES
BY Ben Hooke
Dan Lawson has always been referred to, in the hylo office, as Rubbish Dan. Even before we met him and he was simply a man behind an instagram account. “We’re off to see Rubbish Dan tomorrow…” etc etc.
And when we meet Rubbish Dan - he lives up to his name. He is sat next to a huge pile of, what those with untrained eyes would call, rubbish. He does not see rubbish.Dan is sat next to pairs and pairs of old running shoes as part of his project: Rubbish Shoes. Born out of ReRun.
“Our mission for ReRun was, in five years, make runners more aware of their environmental impact especially through the clothes they buy and how fast fashion is rife in running apparel.
“ReRun has sort of finished now - we had lots of kit that we found new homes for. We managed to deal with anything we got - we managed to give it new life. The thing we had real difficulty with was with old, end-of-life trainers. It was really hard to find somewhere that would recycle them other than somewhere that would incinerate them. We’ve got a big pile of shoes that need new life - so ReRun isn’t technically done. It’s become Rubbish Shoes - which is basically me taking the good bits of these shoes, cutting them up and ‘frankensteining’ them together. I’m slowly working my way through the pile.”
When Dan says frankensteining: that is the single best way to describe what he does with these old pairs of shoes. He rips them apart and sticks them together, with other parts of other shoes and creates sliders or slippers that he can give to others.
Rubbish Shoes doesn’t make Dan any money - in fact, he’s recently stopped trying. He simply wants to give them new homes - doing so, sometimes, in exchange for things he can use. He recently swapped a pair for a tattoo. Tat for tat?
But why does Dan care so much?“I can remember the specific day it became a thing for me. Because usually, when I come back from a run it makes me feel great - all of the things we’ve just been talking about. We used to spend our winters in India. I was working in a town there and I went out for a run and this town was a really non-descript town in India - probably like Reading in the UK. And, oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like it. There was just rubbish everywhere. It was just awful. Piles and piles - and I ran for maybe ten miles and it was just rubbish all around. It was like walls of it, either side of the run I was doing.
“And it sounds sad, but I was literally crying while I was running just thinking this is so bad. And it was just a realisation that this is such a massive problem.
“India doesn’t hide its problems like we do in the global north. We’re good at hiding our issues - sending our rubbish off to other places. India doesn’t - it’s all there. And after that run, I just decided I’ve got to try and do something.”
How did you react?“I was sponsored at the time by a trail running firm and it was coming up for a renewal. And I just thought I’m helpling this brand sell running shorts which are part of the problem and if I have influence over even some runners, I want it to be for something good.
“From that, I stopped the sponsorship and only ran in second-hand running gear and footwear. To prove to people you don’t need new clothes and new stuff - you can still compete, you can still win races. I decided to do that because most of the stuff I saw in those rubbish piles in India was textile waste.”
Dan proved to us just how little ‘stuff’ needs to matter the first time we met him. After we chatted, we ran - as is customary in the hylo business world.
Before we left, Dan proceeded to rummage around this huge pile of shoes and said: “I’ll just find some in here.” and, well, we had questions. “What size do you usually run in?” Dan’s response: “Anything from a seven to a nine.” Anything. From a seven. To a nine.
And Dan, in this battered old pair of trainers, was going at conversational pace - his conversational pace anyway - and Michael, our founder - and no slouch - was gassed. Gasping for breath. And he’s chatting along in shoes two sizes out. Now Dan is an accomplished ultra runner, which you can read about in the other half of our story with him, but what struck us, and inspired us, most was his understanding and embodiment of running’s reliance on nature, and how deeply Dan feels that. There are no other ultra runners that run in battered pairs of shoes two sizes out because they hate waste so much. There are no other ultra runners that feel as conflicted about running in new, fast-fashion gear. No other ultra runners that frankenstein old pairs of running shoes together to prevent waste. We are so certain that Dan cares as much as anyone. And it inspired us.
Dan understands there is no running without a planet to run on. And there’s no reason why we can’t all be a little more like Dan.