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African-Sourced Sneakers

SAWA's Classic Shoes Strike a Balance Between Style and Substance

— March 29, 2011 — Social Good
SAWA is a for-profit social business that sources and makes its sneakers in Africa. Clothing and footwear sold in North America, Europe and elsewhere, are ubiquitously made in Asia, but the founders of SAWA, Fabio Di Iorio, Frédéric Barthélemy and Mehdi Slimani, aimed to do something different from the start.

What is interesting about SAWA is that they are upfront about their purpose; they don't claim to donate money to a charity for each shoe sold. What gives SAWA their edge is their sustainability as a business model that doesn’t rely on donations to be able to make an impact. By sourcing raw materials in Africa and creating the final good in Africa as well, SAWA is able to create reliable jobs.

Additionally, SAWA, with its manufacturing done in Cameroon, was the first business to conduct production on the African content in a viable manner. However, there is no grand scheme behind SAWA’s business strategy. It’s all simple. According to their website, the SAWA story is “a story about people, a story about a challenging economy against the North to South flow.”

The shoes themselves have a classic look, a vintage feel that will almost never go out of style. They're sold Comme des Garçons in Tokyo and at Dover Street Market in London, and their latest collection was recently featured on the Fader website.

Frédéric Barthélemy told Commerce with a Conscience that the SAWA business model “is based on producing a solid product in a competitive environment: we have a normal relationship with our suppliers, they do not expect any charity from us but real business, we do not make any compromise on quality, timing, etc. It is a real business relationship.”

At the same time, however, SAWA doesn’t simply have an anonymous “strictly business” relationship with their suppliers. Fabio Di Iorio emphasized that they know their suppliers, their families and their backgrounds.

This kind of perspective on SAWA’s socially-conscious business model potentially translates into higher efficiency and productivity for the company. With the increase in socially-minded for-profit fashion brands like SAWA, style over substance is no longer a choice that is imperative to make.

Contact Information:
SAWA Shoes Website
9 Rue Philibert Delorme
75017 Paris - France
Telephone: +33 (0)6 11 04 64 44 / +32 (0)471 84 11 88