Brian Granfors is the Creative Director of Soles4Souls, a not for profit global social enterprise committed to fighting poverty through the collection and distribution of shoes and clothing. With the organization for 4 years, Brian has seen much change and movement for the good. We spoke about Soles4Souls and its impact on our world …
MKG: How did Soles4Souls come to focus on footwear? What should we all know about the significance of shoes?
BRIAN: It started with a single shoe. After watching news coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and seeing an image of a single shoe wash ashore, a group of philanthropists and shoe company executives were moved to do something. They orchestrated the collection of over 250,000 pairs of shoes and delivered them to those most impacted. After Hurricane Katrina hit the very next year, they collected nearly one million pairs for relief efforts. After realizing the desperate need for adequate footwear all around the world, Soles4Souls was officially formed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2006.
In many developing nations walking is the primary mode of transportation. Every day millions of people are exposed to unsanitary conditions that lead to parasitic diseases such as hookworm and threadworm. These diseases may lead to sickness, even death. They also keep children out of school leaving them without an education and continuing the cycle of poverty. In the United States, 1 in 5 children live below the poverty line. When we can help provide a pair of shoes, we’re helping bridge the economic gap. For these families, a new pair of shoes provides dignity and hope.
MKG: Is disaster relief still a part of its mission?
BRIAN: Absolutely. Our biggest impact in recent years was after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in late 2012. Acting as second-wave responders, Soles4Souls sent close to 200,000 pairs of BOBS from Skechers shoes to those affected areas hardest hit in the Philippines – the islands of Cebu, Leyte and Samar. We respond according to the product we currently have on hand. Most recently, thanks to a generous donation from Macy’s, we were able to deliver winter coats this past fall to those who lost so much during the wild-fires in Lake County, CA, in the summer of 2015. Two days before Christmas we distributed winter coats to those affected by the floods in South Carolina and just two weeks ago, we delivered coats to those who were victims of a tornado in Garland, TX.
MKG; What are the long-term goals of Soles4Souls and how has the organization developed in the last ten years?
BRIAN: Our long-term goal is to double our impact in the next three years as we continue our mission to fight extreme poverty around the globe. While distributing free shoes and clothing to those in need is still a big part of what we do, the best way we can fight poverty is through our micro-enterprise program. We receive donations from retailers and manufacturers as well as from thousands around the world who hold shoe drives collecting gently-used shoes to support this program. In places like Haiti, Honduras, and parts of Africa, work is extremely hard to find. Many live in deep poverty with families living on less than $1.25 per day. We offer the opportunity for thousands in developing nations to create small businesses selling shoes and clothing, (a micro-enterprise.) This is a powerful and sustainable way for people who are without a traditional job or training to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
MKG: In terms of sustainability, tell me about the importance of reusing shoes and protecting our environment?
BRIAN: Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of textiles per person per year. That adds up to 3.8 billion pounds of unnecessary waste added to our landfills. The EPA estimates that only 15% is said to be donated or recycled. It really goes back to the adage, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” The pair of shoes many no longer want or need here in the U.S. or Canada can turn into $5, $10, even $15 worth of revenue for an entrepreneur in Honduras struggling to feed his/her family. Additionally we’re able to eliminate unnecessary waste currently being dumped into landfills.
MKG: What has been the impact of Soles4Souls on the human condition?
BRIAN: We know that when we provide a new pair of shoes to an individual here or abroad, that pair can only provide temporary relief. But if we’re able to make just a bit of difference to move an individual forward that pair of shoes makes all the difference in the world. Just last December our CEO Buddy Teaster fitted a 13 year-old boy in Haiti with a new pair of New Balance shoes. His name is Wilkerson and he walks an hour to school. His happiest place is in the classroom and he wants to be a doctor to help in Haiti. That new pair of shoes will help Wilkerson get to the place where he thrives the most and help him achieve his goals.
We also have great success stories through those involved in our micro-enterprise program. In the Philippines for example, we watched The Bernadas family sell shoes for the first time. In just two hours, we watched a son and his mother sell enough shoes to generate income for their entire family; income that would normally take them 2-3 months to generate. The family was about to be evicted from their squatter community in Davao City and was trying desperately to buy the cardboard shack in which they have lived for over 30 years.
MKG: How can people get involved?
BRIAN: People can get involved in a number of ways by visiting Soles4Souls.org. We encourage people to host shoe drives, join us on a travel trip to distribute shoes in developing nations, or simply give a monetary donation. As we say, $1=1 PAIR: for every dollar donated, we can distribute one pair of shoes to someone in need.