Less than one year after its launch in Annecy, Saola has opened an office in California to support the distribution of its eco-friendly urban outdoor footwear, which will be trialed by REI in the next few weeks.

Saola is a French brand with a focus on environmental conservation, making footwear from sustainable materials such as recycled plastic bottles, natural cork, recycled foam, organic cotton or recycled leather. Another aspect of its commitment to sustainability is that three percent of its revenues are donated to environmental conservation projects. Customers are asked to select the project they want to support among three options –preservation of the ocean, forest or wildlife.

The trial at REI is a significant deal for a start-up launched in 2017 with a small team around Guillaume Linossier, who previously spent ten years at the Lafuma Group's U.S. subsidiary. Saola has received support from the Annecy Base Camp, a business incubator created by Outdoor Sports Valley, a French industry association that focuses on start-ups in the outdoor sports industry.

The company organized a pre-launch on Kickstarter last spring in order to raise funds for its development. It was targeting proceeds of $25,000 to help finance the first round of production of its sustainable shoes, but the campaign surpassed expectations, raising $37,000 from more than 350 backers in North America and Europe.

The Kickstarter campaign enabled the company to finance the production of about 500 pairs of men's and women's shoes, pre-sold to final customers at prices about 20 to 25 percent lower than the prospective recommended retail prices. The orders derived from the campaign were delivered to U.S. customers in December and to Europeans in January. The complete first range of Saola footwear will be available in the company's online store and in other shops from March.

Linossier said that the supplier's eco-friendly approach appealed to REI, in a context where more and more consumers are eager to buy sustainable products. Saola's initial range will be available on a trial basis from spring 2018 in ten REI stores in Oregon and Washington State, as well as the retailer's online store. After the sale of a second range in the autumn/winter season, REI will decide on potential sales through more of its stores around the country.

Linossier is working to raise additional funds by the summer of 2018 to support innovation, product development and expansion, targeting European markets as well. Saola is already working on new eco-friendly fabrics and material for its third range, which is due in spring 2019.

The Annecy Base Camp will start evaluating candidates for a second cohort of start-ups from Feb. 8. The incubator's selection committee will pick 12 ideas relating to the outdoor industry that will be supported through a network of about 100 specialists, to help work on the business model and set up the project. They will then be allowed to stay at the base camp for one year, in other to support their launch phase.