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St. Paul inventor helps save summer and maybe, the planet

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By Stephanie Fox
It was just a mishap, or so it seemed at the time. But, in the summer of 2008, while boating on Lake Okoboji in Iowa, Alex Orcutt lost a flip-flop. “I was shoving a ski boat off a sandbar into the lake and when I jumped back, the flip-flop was gone,” he recalled.
And then, it happened again, this time when Orcutt was biking. His flip-flop slipped from the bike petal and off his foot.
It could have been a disaster, but it turned out to be fate. He retreated into his Como Ave. basement to work on a design, something quick and easy, that would help keep flip-flops on people’s feet instead of letting the iconic summer shoe fly off into the unknown. His invention was Toe Tethrs, a do-hicky that attaches to both the sandal strap and to the big toe, keeping the flip-flops firmly on the feet.
“With these, you can run great in flip-flops, you can use them in canoes, kayaks. You can wear flip-flops all the time, you don’t need closed sandals,” Orcutt said.

Made in North Minneapolis of recycled materials
Orcott had no real design experience, but in 2018, he became an inventor, awarded a patent, number 10,070,684, for his Toe Tethrs.
“I worked hard trying to find the right material to make them,” he said. “We tried rubber bands and other things but settled on a silicone blend. It doesn’t irritate, it’s durable, flexible and eco-friendly. And now, we have an eco-friendly business. That’s our real mission.”
Soon, he was selling them through his online company, Tethrco. The Toe Tethrs sell for $10 a pair, with 30 percent of the profits from sales going to environmental charities including Ocean Sole, a non-profit company in Kenya that recycles flip-flops and makes them into colorful pieces of art and functional products, available over the Internet.
“More than 40 tons of discarded flip-flops wash on the shores of Kenya every year,” said Orcott. “People gather them and recycle them which helps clean up beaches and gives people jobs.”
Creating the product and the company was exciting, he said, but the patenting process was long and tedious. He reached out to LegalCORPS, which provides free advice to low-income start-ups and inventors in Minnesota.
“Without their help, I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” he said. “I had to submit information and they set me up with legal representation. It was a five-year process, but working with them was a great experience.”
This is Tethrco’s first summer in sales and so far, they’ve sold more than 1,500 of the bright red Toe Tethrs, all made in North Minneapolis out of recycled material. So far, said Orcutt, it’s been all word-of-mouth generating sales. He quit his job as an EMT last August to work on marketing his product and on his real job, being a single father.

‘Labor of love’
His two daughters, 14-year old Lilly and 12-year old Layla, have been working with him since the beginning. They are featured in the company’s online advertising and have become Toe Tethr models, as well as posting product information to their own social media.
“It’s a labor of love – a family affair,” he said.

More shoreline in Minnesota than California, Oregon and Washinton combined
The family connection goes back a couple of generations. Orcott’s grandfather was president of his local Izaak Walton League, one of the earliest national conservation organizations, founded in 1922. His dad did work for the Sierra Club. “I’m a third generation conservationist,” said Orcutt.
“We’re the land of 10,000 Lakes,” he said. “We have more shoreline than California, Oregon and Washington put together – shoreline and waterways that need protection.”
In addition to the Toe Tethrs (in adult and kid’s sizes) and colorfully designed flip-flops, the Tethrco website also features t-shirts, caps and other items displaying the Tethrco logo. Orcutt also started adding a decorative silvery Hamsa charm, a hand-shaped amulet from the Middle East and North Africa, a protective symbol said to bring happiness and luck, designed to be fastened to Toe Tethrs.
Maybe some of that luck will rub off on the new company. Orcott said he’s trying to find a foothold with the outdoor recreation and adventure customer. In the future, Orcott is hoping to expand, to collaborate with brick and mortar stores like Minnesota-based Target.
“I would love to get in there but I’m still learning to navigate that process, learning marketing and sales,” he remarked.
Orcott said he’s hoping that the Tethrco logo will become widely recognized, so that people wearing it will be immediately identified as supporters of conservation, clean water and clean beaches.
“We’re not just in it for profit,” said Orcott. “We’re in it for a purpose. We’re in it supporting recycling and conservation. Taking care of the planet is a no-brainer.”

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