• April 2014

Soles4Souls' Buddy Teaster Uses the Power of the Soft Sell

From “PR Rules: The Playbook—The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Supersizing Your Small Business.” Available in April 2014

By Hope Katz Gibbs, with Kathleen McCarthy
PR Rules: The Playbook

Defining Sales

Buddy teaster is wearing out poverty— one shoe or piece of clothing at a time.

Consider how he marked the 43rd annual Earth Day—an American creation that Wikipedia reports is now the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than 1 billion people each year in 192 countries.

Teaster headed to White Plains, NY. His goal was to collect 20,000 pairs of new or gently used shoes for his nonprofit, Soles4Souls, Inc. Led by his high-school friend, Jill Iannetta, the New York event was one of hundreds of similar activities around the country.

“Engaging so many people on any social good has to matter because of the difference it makes in our collective consciousness about these issues,” notes Teaster, who knows that Americans every year throw away one billion pounds of clothes and shoes. “If we went back in time one minute for each pound, we would be in the middle of the Roman Empire.”

Here’s the good news: Thanks to Soles4Souls, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and thousands of other philanthropic groups, countless pairs of shoes and millions of pieces of clothing make their way to needy people worldwide.

The bad news, says Teaster, is that a lot of perfectly good items get chucked.

At the same time, the demand for used products like these, especially in the developing world, is practically unlimited.

“It makes me wonder if the problem is not so much a ‘stuff’ problem as it is an information problem,” Teaster adds. “Any time there is a mismatch in the market, you can be sure that a lack of information is the cause of most of the distortion.”

Sure there are logistical issues, big ones, he knows, but Teaster believes that most Americans, whether they’re celebrating Earth Day or not, would like to do better than just throw things away that are still useable.

And that’s where Soles4Souls steps in.

Last year, it kept more than three million pounds of shoes and clothing out of landfills. That is only one third of 1 percent of what might be put to good use.

Plus, it could support micro-enterprise merchants in Haiti or Honduras where so many live on $2 a day. Or, it could distribute footwear in Africa to keep villagers there from contracting an inflammatory skin disease known as “jiggers,” which is preventable by wearing shoes.

“Using this soft sell, we do our part to keep useful goods out of the landfills—that’s a great cause in and of itself,” Teaster says. “But if you want to do something to celebrate Earth Day—and every day, then take the things you can’t wear or don’t want to wear and give them to people who do. You’ll be making the world a better place in a million ways that you can’t even imagine.”

Become a traveling ambassador.

Travel4Souls’ mission is to create lifelong change by providing opportunities for caring people to travel and distribute shoes in developing countries.

“Through distribution trips to Haiti, Costa Rica, Honduras, India, Jamaica, and Tanzania, we see a world of sustainable development achieved through building relationships,” Teaster explains. “Your transformation is carried back into your daily life. Traveling ambassadors report feeling a sense of connectedness that sets the foundation for a continued journey of service. It starts in the simple yet profound act of handing out a pair of shoes, and it builds into a lifelong love of service to others that can reverberate and touch thousands of people.”

Watch the Soles4Souls videos, and you’ll see the impact firsthand.

“Also, spend a few minutes reading the stories, look at the photos, and enjoy our tweets. All of these sources give tremendous insight into what we’re all about. You can do this, too, and we make it easy.”

And here’s the soft sell again: “We take care of all the details when you donate, or fundraise. And, all payments and donations made are tax-deductible. Join the movement,” Teaster concludes. “Share your spirit by sparing your soles.”

Learn more at www.soles4souls.org.