We catch up with Soles4Souls’ President and CEO, Buddy Teaster. One of our favorite not-for-profit organizations, the team is gearing up for this month's #Barefoot4Them initiative. Be the voice of those in poverty who’ve been affected by the lack of proper footwear by living one day without shoes on October 16th. Visit Barefoot4Them.org to register.
How would you describe your job?: I’m about the celebrate my third anniversary at S4S and I still feel like a rookie in the footwear world. I’m not really a fashion guy — one look at my closet will tell you I’m happily in a jeans/dress/shirt/blazer rut! But I have become totally fascinated by the business. The complexity, speed, commitment and spirit of this industry is really something. I can mostly avoid embarrassing myself now but what I have to learn would fill 1000 pages!
What you do you love most about what you do? The ability to make a difference in people’s lives is better than anything I’ve ever done. Sometimes that means helping a company here deal with excess inventory in a way that makes them feel great. Other times, it’s providing used shoes to an entrepreneur in Haiti so she can resell them to help her out of poverty. Sometimes, it’s giving a pair of work boots to a homeless vet who can now get day work with the right footwear. Having good shoes is at the root of so many good things that we take for granted. I try not to do that anymore.
What does an average day look like for you? It might be helping to figure out how to get a run of shoes that are the wrong color from China to a client in Honduras. Talking to one of our Board Members from great footwear companies like New Balance, Genesco, Rockport and Caleres is a regular part of my work. Speaking to a group of social entrepreneurs or working a retail partner on a cause marketing campaign. Like most of us in this business, no day is ever that predictable.
What characteristics do you feel you need to possess, to be great at your job? Because we’re a non profit that earns about 70% of our revenue from selling used shoes and clothes — sometimes new if we have permission from the manufacturer or retailer — we role Soles4Souls like a business. We have a three year plan to double our impact and the only way to achieve that is to be focused on executing well every day. We never loose sight our mission and we have to practice what we preach about being entrepreneurial.
Are there any specific qualifications? A great understanding of both Not-for-Profit and For-Profit approaches to problems and opportunities is a big help.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to get into this line of work? I think you used to have to choose doing well or doing good. Now, there are so many ways to combine those goals so, I’d always advocate looking for a way to make a difference, not just make a profit.