© Shoemates

Shoemates, or: “Get one, give one”

Get one, give one – With this concept, the Munich-based startup wants to help get as many shoes as possible onto the feet of schoolchildren in Afghanistan. On how shoemates combines espadrilles with social entrepreneurship. 

It all started with hats. Or, to be more exact, with hats made of Peruvian wool knitted by elderly women in Passau.  The experience, success and values of headmates gave rise to the idea for shoemates: a startup that sells espadrilles, moccasins and many other types of shoes for women and men. What makes them special is that for every pair of shoes purchased, the startup donates a pair of children’s shoes to needy schoolchildren in Afghanistan.  So – get one, give one!

Shoemates founder Obaid Rahimi (© shoemates)

In the 5-Euro-Business Competition at the University of Passau, the shoemates concept was initially put to the test, and the idea was validated and checked for feasibility. The results were more than positive. The shoemates team and their founder Obaid Rahimi successfully prevailed over nine other startups and took first place.

After the competition, shoemates did not just remain a good idea, but instead became a reality. The goal:

“We want to establish ourselves in the field of ‘social business for shoes’ while also standing for products that are high-quality, stylish, sustainable and social.”

“We” currently includes founder Obaid (29), Julia (25), who is responsible for social media, content marketing and PR, and Anna (26), who takes care of customer service via email and live chat on the website.

“The donated shoes are manufactured in Afghanistan”

A quick look at the online shop shows the array of shoes offered. In addition to espadrilles, moccasins, wedges, winter boots and ankle boots for women, men can also purchase espadrilles and low-cut shoes. The shoes not only look good, but are also sustainably manufactured. Obaid explained:

“Our shoes are made of leather that comes from certified tanneries, and are manufactured in accordance with the highest standards from EU workers’ directives. We have also integrated disabled people from the Plattlinger Werkstätten and Lebenshilfe Deggendorf in the value creation process of shoemates […]. They are responsible for packaging and shipping shoes in Germany.”

For every pair of new shoes that makes a customer happy in Germany, shoemates guarantees that someone in Afghanistan will be just as excited: a schoolchild whose parents would not have been able to buy the shoes otherwise.

The shoes are distributed locally by experienced organizations (© shoemates)

What do the manufacturing conditions look like for these shoes?

“The donated shoes are manufactured in Afghanistan to sustainably strengthen the local economy.”

On-site manufacturing (© shoemates)

It is also easier and more productive to manufacture and distribute the donated shoes locally. Shoemates works with small local organizations that specialize in distributing goods to remote areas of Afghanistan. That ensures the shoes arrive exactly where they are needed.

Social impact as a selling point

It sounds like a complete success. Yet despite how well shoemates has established itself, the startup is still facing major challenges. Generating growth capital is at the top of the list. Being able to make a living from their work remains a goal for the team.

They took an important step in the right direction last October by opening their own flagship store in the Glockenbach district of Munich. Founder Obaid, who was also born in Afghanistan, has faith in his idea, because

“…it is the simplicity and tangibility of our social impact that becomes a significant selling point for many customers, and it makes our product special. With our transparent supply chain, we are able to show our customers exactly what happens with their money and who benefits from it.”