|Purpose||Collecting and distributing donated shoes and clothing|
Soles4Souls is a non-profit headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. It receives shoe and clothing donations from individuals, community donation drives, and retailers. Then, Soles4Souls distributes the donated items to various programs around the world to help those in need. Items are repurposed either to provide relief or to help create jobs through the selling of clothes or shoes in developing countries.
Soles4Souls was founded in 2006 by Wayne Elsey. It grew quickly but encountered various issues under Elsey's leadership. In 2012, Elsey was replaced by Buddy Teaster, who improved the organization's governance, financials, and communication. In 2017, Soles4Souls acquired a similar non-profit focused on clothing, called Dignity U Wear. Over time, Soles4Soules has increasingly focused on supporting entrepreneurship programs and expanding clothing donations.
Soles4Souls was founded after a group of executives from the shoe industry donated shoes to survivors of a 2014 tsunami then to survivors of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Soles4Souls non-profit was formed the following year, in 2006 by founder Wayne Elsey. Early on, the non-profit received a grant for $20 million to fund its operations.
By 2010, Soles4Souls had $76 million in annual revenues and 29 employees. The non-profit grew in large part thanks to a celebrity endorsement from Jessica Simpson, who donated 2,000 shoes. Soles4Souls also broke a Guinness World Record that year for the most shoes tied together into a chain. By 2011, the non-profit had distributed 19 million shoes.
Soles4Souls was one of the fastest growing charities in the United States, but there was controversy under Elsey's leadership. Donors believed shoes were given directly to those in need, whereas many shoes were sold to support the non-profit's operations or given to entrepreneurs that sell them for profit in developing countries. Elsey said he was always clear about how donated shoes were distributed and sold, both in official documents and in the media. Elsey also used the organization to refinance his personal real estate.
Elsey resigned in March 2012 and was replaced by Buddy Teaster in October 2012. The organization cut staff, appointed new board members, settled a lawsuit, and improved their financials. By 2015, donating shoes to entrepreneurship programs to support local economies in developing countries became the non-profit's main focus. However, Teaster explained more to donors regarding where shoes they donate are distributed. From 2012 to 2019, donations to Soles4Souls grew 70% and the non-profit's revenues from shoe sales doubled.
In 2017, Soles4Souls acquired Florida-based Dignity U Wear, a non-profit that collects donated clothing and distributes it in impoverished neighborhood. Dignity U Wear was founded in 2000 and distributed $160 million in donated clothing, but it considered acquisition offers when its funding wasn't enough to keep up with expenses. By 2020, donations to Soles4Souls were increasing substantially. DSW customers reached three million shoe donations and Zappos shoppers donated one million. In one year, Crocs donated twice as many shoes as the prior four years combined.
Shoes and clothing
Soles4Souls receives clothing and shoe donations, then distributes them to provide relief and create jobs. Items are donated by individuals that pack and ship items to Soles4Souls, donation drives at schools and churches, and samples, excess inventory, or other donations from businesses. The majority of Soles4Souls shoe donations come from retailers that provide shoes with defects or that weren't selling well. Soles4Souls prefers items in good condition but even shoes in poor condition are recycled.
As of 2020, Soles4Souls has distributed 50 million pairs of shoes or items of clothing in 129 countries. As of 2010, about 55 percent of the shoes are distributed in the United States and 45 percent are distributed abroad. As of 2020, about 75% of the shoes are sold to other non-profits that operate microenterprise programs in developing countries. Those non-profits sell the shoes to small business owners, that sell them at local marketplaces in developing countries in order to support their family. Soles4Souls charges a fee for the shoes that is used to support its operations. As of 2020, used clothing has been an increasing portion of Soles4Souls' operations. Most clothing donations are sold overseas.
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