These Shoes Are Changing The Lives Of Single Mothers And Seniors In Colombia

Soles for Change knows the right pair of shoes can help someone go far.

The artisanal shoe company’s main mission is to benefit the Colombian artisans, mostly single mothers and seniors, who handcraft the colorful espadrilles it sells online.

Laura Viveros co-founded the company in March 2016 after traveling to her native Colombia for a family Christmas trip. During their visit to the small, picturesque town of Curiti, in the department of Santander, the financial advisor tried on some of the local artisans’ espadrille flats in the hopes of giving her sore feet some relief.

The 33-year-old says her feet immediately felt better in the handmade shoes and she began to wear them everywhere. Viveros raved about the shoes to her cousins and friends.

She and her husband, Juan Carlos Rodriguez, then began brainstorming ideas with her brother Juan Camilo Viveros and his wife, Carolina Gutierrez, about how to help the artisans’ business in a sustainable way. 

“I want[ed] to support these artisans because what they do is such an art,” Viveros told HuffPost. “They needed someone who believed in them. They needed someone who could show the world what they proudly do with their own hands while incorporating ancient weaving techniques.” 

That’s when the foursome decided to start Soles for Change.

“Their work is truly amazing,” she added, in reference to the artisans. “Given the social inequality in my country, they had no one who was capable of helping them out and show[ing] their products in the international markets. I met them and they have truly changed my life.”

The artisans craft each shoe from the natural fibers that come from the fique plant in Colombia. They produce the raw material, treat it, dye it and then weave it into the espadrilles. The shoes are sent to the Colombian capital, Bogotá, for quality control and then Soles for Change ships it to a U.S. distribution center in Miami Beach, Florida, or Queens, New York. 

The handmade espadrilles are sold on the Soles for Change website or at pop-up shops from $37 to $45 a pair, and 25 percent of the profits are “re-invested” in the artisans and their day-to-day life.

“We strive to contribute to the improvement of their quality of life,” Viveros told HuffPost. “We want to buy them new machines for faster production as well as [facilitate] better education in the art of shoe making. Also, every year we fulfill a dream. This year our plan is to take them all to see the ocean for the first time.”

Last year, the artisans voted to travel outside their small town, many for the first time, and Soles for Change paid for a trip to the thermal hot springs in Paipa, Colombia.

“This company is about them,” Viveros said. “It makes me so proud to see them work representing our brand. Giving us ideas about new materials and new designs. They know now this project is for them and by them.”

Viveros says Soles for Change has been life changing for many of the artisans simply because it provides them with a steady income.

“Before they had to rely only on the local market to sell their shoes and bring food to the table,” she said. “With Soles for Change they know they have a more stable source of income as we will purchase their production no matter what.”

Both Viveros and her husband have careers apart from Soles for Change. She works as a vice president investment counsellor for HSBC Private Bank USA while Rodriguez is a project director for Emovis Technologies. Both moved to New York City last year after many years living in Miami, where they first launched the shoe retail brand.

Despite their other responsibilities, the couple and their business partners hope to expand Soles for Change.

“We have had thousands of emails from people like us who want to make a difference in their countries and want to make a program similar to ours,” Viveros said. “We started in Colombia but our plan is to replicate this model all around Latin America.”

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