Brave Soles empowers impoverished entrepreneurs through recycled footwear

Sponsored feature: presented by Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University

The Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University is home to unique entrepreneurial initiatives that are designed to make a positive impact in a variety of communities, both in Toronto and beyond. See all of our profiles here.

Brave Soles

Who’s involved in this project? 

Christal Earle (founder, chief optimist), Liam McDonough (director of development), Florence Levasseur (director of web logistics) and Kaitlin Tinnis (director of sales and marketing).

What are your goals for this project? 

Brave Soles offers 100 percent handmade leather shoes and accessories with recycled tire soles and design accents. We want to surprise people with the incredible beauty of thinking differently. Our products are made in Dominican Republic and our business model is helping to create micro finance and enterprise for stateless garbage dump workers, single moms and rising social change entrepreneurs. Everything we do is focused on generating enterprise through recycling and up-cycling.We work in communities that are desperately poor extremely vulnerable to mosquito-borne disease from standing water in tires and our work is helping to decrease that risk. We believe souls should always feel good in our products. 

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?

One of our biggest challenges is learning to navigate the retail realm. We grew so fast and are trying to now catch up and learning how to be more intentional with our planning ahead. 

Can you explain the mentorship process available to you through the Ryerson Social Ventures Zone (SVZ)? 

The Social Venture Zone at Ryerson has made all the difference for us. Our founder, Christal Earle, is able to get valuable mentorship and insights through the workshops and coaches that are made available through the zone. When you are a social venture, it can be frustrating to know where to start and who to reach out to. The SVZ has been instrumental in our development these past few months through networking, teaching and one-on-one mentorship that is helping to change how we see possibilities. 

The Ryerson SVZ is all about leveraging innovation to make a social impact. How will your project affect the communities you’re targeting?

Our project is focused on helping people see resources and design differently. Although our products are currently only produced in the Dominican Republic (DR), we sell all over the world. We help to provide employment for 16 people between Toronto and DR. We are also helping future micro entrepreneurs to co-create their path out of poverty and exploitation through our foundation. 

Have you been able to obtain any feedback from people who stand to benefit from your project? If so, what have they told you?

Yes, we hear from them all the time. Our team on the ground in DR tell us about the ways that their lives are changing such as being able to actually have enough money to keep their kids in school, get medical assistance and begin to plan differently for the future. 

What kind of public or private partnerships are you hoping to make (if any) to help grow your project?

We love partnerships! We have been talking to local Toronto entrepreneurs involved in sustainable fashion and design to find ways for them to be able to access the products our micro enterprises are creating in DR. We are also looking to partner with shoe businesses that would like to use our hand-cut soles in their lines. 

Imagine if you could scale up your project to its full potential. What would that look like?

Scaling up for us means building enough brand recognition and engagement to be able to re-plant what we are doing in Dominican Republic in other communities around the world. The potential of our model is to provide employment and generate enterprise in garbage dump communities globally.

Timing is a crucial factor that contributes to the success of a social venture. Why is now the right time for your project?

Statelessness, garbage dumps, poverty and the need to think differently are issues that are not going away. We believe that they are many people out there who are like us: they want to feel connected to their purchases and they want their choices to matter for something bigger. If not now, then when are we going to start to think and live differently? 

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