We’ve attempted to summarize our interview with Christal on the journey of Brave Soles.

Christal is the founder of Brave Soles, an ethical manufacturer of sandals and accessories. Working out of the Dominican Republic, she employs at-risk communities through her business and has a strong environmental impact by using upcycled tires in her products instead of just leather and plastic!

We’ll be posting the full interview series over the course of the next week. Full disclosure, Brave Soles’ website integrates the Green Story platform into it, so they’re our clients.

The goal isn’t to consume endlessly, it’s to make great choices that we can be proud of and are feeding into something bigger than ourselves.

 

How it all started

 

In another life, I was the founder of a company that focused on motivational presentations for youth humanitarian trips. That’s what brought me to the Dominican Republic, where I first encountered the people at the local garbage dump.

There were always tires at the dump. And everything was being burnt because there was a lack of education among the workers. The really big thing was the health risk due to dengue. Mosquitoes breed in tires as the tires hold standing water which doesn’t go anywhere. I started losing friends to dengue and it became very real to me. And I thought, somebody should do something about these tires.

 

The moment of realization

 

I got the idea for Brave Soles last January in 2017. I was walking out of my door in the Dominican and my neighbor walks out at the same time, wearing these really cute sandals. She said she got them from a guy who was making them on the street in Cuba. And then she said there’s nothing like handmade leather sandals.

It was like a lightning bolt hit me.

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The Whatsapp message that got me started 

I didn’t know where to start and my background is not retail, it’s humanitarian work. Talk about a total hard left. I go to this gentleman with a leather workshop and asked him if he can make me shoes. And he’s like yeah sure. Then I said I want them to have tire soles, hand crafted with no chemicals involved. The guy stood there and crossed his arms looking at me like I was growing horns.

Three days later, he sends me a WhatsApp message and it has a picture of a little flip-flop sandal with a tire sole. It was enough of a glimmer of hope that I thought there’s something here worth pursuing.

 

Funding over dinner

The background of my life is that I’m a single mom who’s stuck between two countries. I’m half a step ahead of the people I worked with in the garbage dump. At that point in my life, I didn’t know how I was going to pay my rent.

Later that week, a friend of mine in town took me to dinner and at the end of it, grabs my hand and sticks money in it. He says, “I really feel like you could do something with this.” I hadn’t told him anything about my plans. I looked down and there’s $1,000 in my hand. I was blown away.

I go home that night and I had an inner conversation. I was like, if I don’t do this now, I’m going to keep on putting it off.

10 samples and a soft opening 

Before we launched, I did a couple of little teasers and tested with 10 samples. I just told people I’m working on something, can’t wait to show everyone, that kind of thing. I opened a Shopify store on June 7th, 2017.

I made sure the story was really clear on the site so that people could understand the significance behind the products. By the end of the first day, we had sold 40 pairs of shoes. Which does not sound like a lot. But then I barely had a company!

 

If you want to follow Christal’s footsteps, here are a couple of things to get you started:

1) our 7 step guide to greening your fashion business

2) Our free ebook on authentic marketing, so you can show your customers your green practices.

 

Scaling up

 

No one was more surprised than me that it caught on. It was this crazy stumbling forward process. Figuring out an ordering system to bringing in the right people in place and so on. But we hit the season at the right time and everything just kept moving forward.

In the fall I got into the SocialVentures Zone at Ryerson in Toronto. That alone radically altered the trajectory of everything that we were doing. Joining the SVZ put me in the right ecosystem.

 

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Finding purpose

For me, my sweet spot has been for my purpose and what I’m doing for work to be intricately connected. And I love being able to rest in the fact that I’m doing something that’s helping environmentally. But really for me as a human, as Christal, one of my core things is to help change people’s perspective on things. If I can change people’s perspective on where they’re at, how they consume things, that’s the gift that I get back from doing what I’m doing.

Building a community

A portion of our resources is going to provide microfinance opportunities to people that are my friends at the garbage dump. There’s a lot of people who maybe just need someone to believe in them and give them a chance. Through our work with Brave Soles, we provide employment for 20 people. We’re not looking to just build up factories and factories of employees, we’re looking to co-create with them about what they want to do. Our model is to always ask is this fair and equitable? Everyone involved has to feel like there’s dignity in these relationships.

The power of choice

I see Brave Soles as giving consumers an opportunity to understand the power of their choices. It’s about collective action. Supply chains can be equitable on every end. You can shop equitably and pay an equitable price to the end consumer. But all along that chain are people whose contributions are valuable. If they’re being valued, it’s an exciting way to be thinking about building that future.

Educating customers

Green Story for me answered a big question around how to share our impact with our customers. I knew there are great things happening within our manufacturing process. I also knew that we could keep growing into more sustainable actions and decisions. But me knowing these things and talking about them are two very different things.

To be able to have Green Story come in and do the analysis is for us a great confidence building because the numbers don’t lie. By following the numbers, we can set milestones for ourselves and have information to compare ourselves to. We can actually see our progress and impact. And we can share the information with our customers, so it’s not just us sharing the warm fuzzy feeling in our souls but real, verified numbers.

Ultimately, I think we’re showing our customers how to shop differently and what to look for. I think we’re helping people understand what supply chains are. There’s a reason those jeans are $10. And it’s not just because you deserve a great deal.

The goal isn’t to consume endlessly, it’s to make great choices that we can be proud of and are feeding into something bigger than ourselves.

Enjoying the ride

I can’t imagine now what my life will be like without Brave Soles. When you finally embrace your thing, it just changes how you see things. It becomes a whole fresh filter on life and what’s possible. It gives you the ability to think beyond where your current position and see the potential.

 

Watch out for the full interview coming up this month!