August 25, 2022 Circular Projects

SOEX rescues discarded sneakers together with startup Sneaker Rescue

Ahrensburg, May 2022. SOEX has entered into a business partnership with the start-up Sneaker Rescue to give worn shoes a second life. Ten tons of discarded shoes arrive at the SOEX sorting plant in Wolfen every day. That‘s at least 20,000 pairs of shoes per day, any of which are sneakers. The majority of these shoes go back on sale at thrift stores or markets abroad. But some shoes are so dirty or broken that no one wants to buy them anymore. So far, these shoes are no longer worn, but recycled. SOEX is now giving these shoes a second life – no longer just as raw materials for other products, but in their original form: as wearable shoes. SOEX aims to save 400 pairs a day. The savior in need at SOEX‘s side is Hagen Matuszak, founder of Sneaker Rescue, a Berlin-based repair shop specializing in sneakers. Together, SOEX and Sneaker Rescue want to ensure that instead of wearing, sorting out, recycling, a truly closed loop is also created in the sneaker world: worn, sorted out shoes should be worn on.

„It doesn‘t always have to be something new. But the shoes will look like new,“ says Walter J. Thomsen, the managing director of SOEX. Thomsen has been working in the recycling sector for almost 30 years. Now the industry expert wants to cooperate with the industry newcomer. Hagen Matuszak founded his own start-up Sneaker Rescue at the age of 22 with the mission: to save sneakers from the garbage can. Up to now, private individuals have given their sneakers into Hagen Matuszak‘s hands for repair, but by cooperating with SOEX, the shoemaker can take his mission to a new level and achieve more; save even more sneakers. According to the Federal Environment Agency, more than 380 million pairs of shoes are thrown away every year in Germany alone. Many of these are sneakers, which have become a hyped consumer good in recent years – they have long since shed their purely sporty image and found their way into our everyday wardrobe. Now, more and more of these sneakers are arriving at SOEX sorting facilities because they are no longer worn or have been worn out. „By saving sneakers, we are saving resources,“ says Walter J. Thomsen. That‘s because a wide variety of materials are used in sneakers, certainly 50 on average, estimates sneaker expert Hagen Matuszak. Among them are many materials such as polyester, for the production of which petroleum is used as a raw material – it is precisely these fossil raw materials that need to be preserved instead of wasted, and for this the sneakers need to be saved. Hagen Matuszak selects the first batch of shoes himself at the SOEX plant in Wolfen.

To bring the first load of shoes to his workshop in Berlin Britz by his own hand, Hagen Matuszak visited Soex‘s sorting plant in Wolfen: „They can definitely still be made fresh,“ says Hagen Matuszak, and within a few seconds he finds the first pair of shoes that seals the cooperation between Sneaker Rescue and SOEX – the selection at the plant is large.

The musty image of worn shoes has nothing to do with what comes out in the end when Hagen is done with them. It takes Hagen an hour to save a pair. That means cleaning shoes, replacing soles, plugging holes. And Hagen already has a solution to the smell of worn shoes in his workshop in Berlin Britz: an ozone generator. The active oxygen ozone reacts with the odor molecules and inactivates them. The odors are thus not only masked, but destroyed. In the end, the rescued shoes become shoes as good as new without wasting scarce resources on a completely new shoe. SOEX and Sneaker Rescue are thus making an important contribution to promoting longevity and the circular economy in the industry.

About Soex

SOEX Group is a global specialized service provider for the collection, sorting, reuse and recycling of used textiles and footwear. SOEX has been providing services in this field since 1977. The sorting and evaluation of the collected garments takes place in certified facilities and follows the international waste hierarchy: reuse takes precedence over recycling. To this end, the SOEX Group has established a textile recycling network that is unique in the world, with the goal of keeping 100 percent of used textiles in the product cycle – thus conserving natural resources and avoiding waste.


Patricia Hagelstein

Rescued shoes before and after cleaning and repair.