“You have to ask different and difficult questions,” says Christal Earle when talking about her nascent accessories brand Brave Soles. She was in the process of adopting Widlene, a Haitian child she met while doing humanitarian work with stateless people in the garbage dumps of the Dominican Republic, when the 2010 Haitian earthquake struck next door. More than 200,000 people died, 300,000 more were injured and 1.5 million were displaced. In the aftermath, Widlene’s Canadian visa was denied and Earle unable to leave the DR with her daughter. She continued her work in the country but was forced to resign from her job in 2014. While exhausting personal finances, she noticed car tires piling up at the dump. Having learned about an old shoe factory, Earle wondered if there was a way to combine old tires with leather shoes, but she didn’t have the funds to pursue it.
In March 2017, a visiting Canadian friend left her with $1,000. “He said, ‘I feel like you will know what to do with this,’” recalls Earle. She went to the shoe factory, put in an order and sold 40 pairs online when it launched that June. Brave Soles’s strappy gladiators and slides use upcycled tires for soles, and all of the leather is sourced from tanneries in the United States and Brazil. Handbags use upcycled leather with inner-tube details, and Earle plans to include vegan pineapple leather in future collections.
Earle’s non-traditional background helps explain the way she runs her company. Brave Soles’s products are made ethically in the DR, where artisans (mostly women) are paid a living wage. Plus, pulling tires out of the waste stream reduces garbage. However, pieces are also affordable, with shoe prices hovering around $100.
“I wasn’t going to capitalize on a really great story to get an inflated price for something,” says Earle. “I can sleep knowing everyone is being treated equitably along the way, including the end consumer.”