Spring is here. For most of us, it means looking forward to warmer weather and dusting off our summer clothes. But for many people living, working, and fighting in the Middle East and around the globe, it is the start of "Fighting Season," when terror groups and soldiers come out of hiding to resume battle.
Combat Flip Flops also comes out full force in the spring for their own "fighting season." Sandals are a yearly commodity for those looking for a fresh wardrobe in the coming months. Each pair they sell helps to disrupt the cycles of terrorism in several high-risk areas around the world by putting girls in school, promoting medical treatment, demining areas that have long been dangerous, and helping our veterans recover from deployment.
Business Over Bullets
Matthew Griffin was a member of the Army Rangers, and deployed more than once to serve in Afghanistan. While he was there, he discovered an opportunity where he could "lead the way" from the homefront."I saw the positive impact entrepreneurs had in conflict areas," he told me. The small businesses that he saw in the Afghan communities where he was working were helping to stabilize their local areas, combat radicalism by providing food, shelter, and wages to the local people, and promoting education due to the resulting stability. Inspired to contribute to that cycle, "Griff" got together with his fellow ranger, Lee, and started a business that would directly impact the areas in the world that needed it most."We wanted to create a cool product that created a lot of jobs, added value to the customer, and kept them coming back year after year," Griff told me. "We were going for [something] sustainable. Everybody gets fresh flip flops in the spring; that's our fighting season."The "unarmed forces" as Griff puts it, go to work every day to help those that need it most through the marketplace. And it's working. Griff told me some of the stories of people that have been directly helped by the business."The first factory we were working in... this guy, Abdulah, he supports 13 people. His dad was killed by the Russians." Thirteen people, supported and protected by a single job. He also told me about a Combat boot factory in Kabul, where CFF was injecting their product line. The factory had been started by a former Marine. Along the way, they learned that the products made in that building were able to reunite three brothers, all cobblers, who had been split up due to the increasing danger in the area. It inspired Griff to push harder and create opportunities for people to pull up the others around them in profound ways.But the biggest reason that Griff is so stoked about what their business is doing is the impact that they are making on the education of women in Afghanistan."If you educate a woman you educate a family," he said. "You can't expect a population to progress if 50% of the population is being suppressed."In Afghanistan, women are typically married by the ages of 12 or 13, to a much older man. Their education, if they had attended school, would have been paid until that point by the state. But once they are married, the burden of tuition comes to rest on the family, and, in most cases, is simply unpayable. The average literacy rate of women in Afghanistan is around 17%.Then, the husband of that girl dies, leaving her and her children to fend for themselves. The mother now has to provide for her family, but she has no education to rely upon to make a living wage. And so, the children go out to beg on the street - they do not have time or money for school themselves, and the mother does not know the value that education could bring them.It then becomes very easy to radicalize those children if they are offered a place with food, shelter, and protection.The moment you educate that young girl, you break the cycle. She can get a good job and provide for her family, she understands the value of an education, and her children are insulated against radicalized groups. Healthy businesses create the ultimate shield against bullets.
From Garage to Global
"Nobody said we could do it... but we ground through that sh*t."Griff is used to being rejected in business - he went through his fair share of being rejected by investors. But he told me, in spite of that, his customers rallied around the product."The junior to middle-enlisted male that was related to the military... that's our market; that's who's been there, done that, saw what we were doing, believed in us, and bought our product," he said. "They knew what was going on... and they brought us to where we are today."Combat Flip Flops started in a garage, with a small crew that was passionate about making a significant impact in war-torn areas around the world through business and entrepreneurship. Today, they have production facilities in Afghanistan, Columbia, Laos, and America. The business is more than flip flops; CFF also offers sarongs, jewelry, cashmere products, and clothing. These products help fight against economies that were previously overrun by cartels, clear acres of land that had been littered with land mines, and bring medicine and care to places otherwise neglected by larger global entities. And every sale contributes to education.As they've grown, they're gathering more believers. Their appearance on Shark Tank produced three backers, they continue to regularly sell out of product because demand is so high, and Griff's vision for the company is getting closer than ever."We want to be a mix of Red Bull and Toms," he told me; a "rad" company with great products that makes a huge, positive impact on global communities and puts more girls in school.Are you stoked yet?