How and when did you start this business? Would you please share your growth story?
I launched Brave Soles in June of 2017. Previously, I was the co-founder of a youth humanitarian organization called Live Different (livedifferent.com), and my work led me all over the world, connecting with communities and initiatives. One of those places that I would work and bring teams to was the Dominican Republic, and one of the places I kept returning to was the landfill that I had made many connections with through working alongside the people there.
Many of the people there were stateless, and, like millions of people all over the world, they were the ones who made recycling possible, as they dug through the garbage and collected plastics and other recyclable materials to sell to the private companies that would pay them for it.
The more time I spent there, the more I began to see the world differently as our lives began to intertwine.
So much so that my relationships there led to me adopting my daughter after her birth mother passed away. However, my daughter was without documentation, and due to crazy twists and turns, we could not bring her to Canada for 10.5 years. She finally arrived in March of 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Because she couldn’t come to Canada, I would travel back and forth to be with her every two weeks.
I was a single mother and was consulting and speaking to make ends meet and be with my daughter. But always continued to bring people with me to the garbage dumps to work with my community of friends there. They live in very vulnerable circumstances; they are stateless, and they are always in danger of being deported from the country because of their lack of documentation.
There is everything imaginable in those garbage dumps, but one of the things there that I hadn’t considered was the number of tires that are thrown away.
As a global community, we don’t have a handle on what we will do with billions of tires we continually produce, year after year. They pollute our water, cause much of the microplastics in our oceans, and leach chemicals into the earth. They also become a favored breeding ground for mosquitoes with standing water when they are just sitting there. Those mosquitoes carry diseases such as dengue and some of my friends from the landfill were dying from the dangers that the tires were creating. I kept saying to myself, “Someone should do something about all these tires.”
One day I walked out of my apartment in the DR, and my neighbor walked out of hers simultaneously. She was wearing super cute sandals, and I commented on them. As I stopped to see them closer, it was like a lightning bolt in the side of the head: Why can’t I make sandals like this with upcycled tire soles?” I had some ideas but no money – like NO money. I was surviving, but there was never anything left over for the extras in life. I think this is often the point in an entrepreneur’s life where they need to decide: will they sit on their idea, or will they push to see what’s possible? And this was that moment of decision for me.
Through a fantastic series of events, I managed to get $250 together and find a leather artisan. We began to put ideas together, and I talked about those ideas on social media. On June 7, 2017, I launched Brave Soles via a Facebook post with a link. On the first day, we sold 39 pairs, so I figured I must be on to something 🙂 There have been many, many ups and downs in the months and years since then. Growing something from nothing requires resilience, commitment, and help along the way. I am the result of people believing in me, and now, I want to provide that for others who may not have access to the same opportunities.
Tell us the products and services you offer.
We focus on creating fashion with upcycled materials and ethical, small-scale production. Our handcrafted shoes have up-cycled tire soles, and all accessories are handcrafted from reclaimed materials such as leather from aircraft seats and other sources.
What were the initial difficulties you faced?
I came to the fashion industry from the social entrepreneurship perspective. This was not an easy transition for me in the beginning. I had to shift my mindset to think about social impact and financial growth. I had to learn to think like a CEO who needed to make a business work on its merit. I had to learn how to build a supply chain from scratch and on a very micro scale in the beginning. It was challenging but also very rewarding.
How did you maneuver your business during 2020-2021? Kindly list a few learnings.
When the pandemic first hit, we prepared to do our first primary wholesale season and scheduled to ship by March. Within about seven days, our business lost 80% of revenue. I was faced with the realization that I needed to pivot and quickly. We turned back to eCommerce and transitioned to online sales and virtual shopping. We also created ways to work with our retail partners when things opened up again, making our terms easier for them and reliable.
How did you hear about Visa Canada’s She’s Next Grant Program?
I learned about Visa Canada’s She’s Next Grant Program through the Fashion Zone at Ryerson. We are part of the accelerator program there, and they were talking about it.
Kindly tell us about your plans for 2022.
We will be launching a new 100% upcycle leather accessories brand in the new year, and we are also launching closed-toe shoes for the fall of 2022, which is super exciting for us!
Any words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs?
Nothing worth doing is built in isolation. Surround yourself with mentors and people you trust and who aren’t scared to both support you and be honest with you.
For more info kindly visit:
Website: Brave Soles
This Story is authored by Yugbodh, Onside Media, Toronto, Canada. If you have stories to share kindly email: – email@example.com