The Bavarian startup Shoemates will ensure a schoolchild in Afghanistan receives a pair of shoes for every pair you buy from them - it's a powerful mix of consumption with philanthropy, and a contentious business model.
Companies like TOMs and Roma Boots have long been pioneers of the "buy one, give one" business model. For every pair of shoes they sell, another pair is produced and given to a child in a developing country that might otherwise have to go barefoot.
It sounds like a win-win situation, but in fact it's a business model that has come in for a fair amount of criticism. We took a closer look at it here at RESET in our Proof of Concept series just a while back. It's been accused of tackling the effects of poverty rather than the cause, and in the case of TOMs at least, by importing shoes from foreign countries to donate, it has been said to have a negative effect on local business selling similar products.
But now the German startup Shoemates has taken the concept and given it a more sustainable twist.
Shoemates: sustainable, social, and a boost to local economies
While Shoemates also uses the "buy one, give one" business model (each pair of shoes ordered from them means a pair of shoes will be gifted to a schoolchild in Afghanistan aged between 5 and 15), the shoes that are given are actually made in Afghanistan, rather than abroad. The Afghan shoe company AFG Collection Shoes is given the job of producing the shoes - and as a local company they obviously have the best understanding of the local situation and can make footwear which is most suited to the local cultural, social and economic conditions. Obaid Rahimi, one of the founders of the Bavarian startup, has Afghan roots himself and wants Shoemates to help promote social and economic change in the country.
The video below shows some of the shoes being handed out.
The shoes produced for consumption in Germany are also in line with social and sustainability requirements. While they are made in China, Spain and Portugal, Shoemates ensures that fair work and production conditions are always met.
And when it comes to delivery, that's also been designed to have a positive impact on an often socially-disadvantaged group, with the shoes being packaged and sent from a workshop by people with mental impairments or disabilities. Working for Shoemates offers them both the chance to earn some extra income and also a job that may help them to give structure to their day.
As well as classic espadrilles, Shoemates also sells trainers, boots and wedge sandals. The sales of their bags go towards supporting school equipment for Honduran schoolkids and in another side project, headmates, pensioners in Bavaria have their own marketplace for their hand-knitted headgear.
All of Shoemates and Headmates products can be found on the label's website.
This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original article which first appeared on RESET's German-language site.