Bethany Tran’s career as a shoe designer started in the unlikeliest of places – a slum in Guatemala City. Tran traveled there to visit a friend who’d moved to the Guatemalan capital to work with a nonprofit dedicated to helping the poor. While visiting, Tran was moved by the abject poverty that bound these people and prevented them from bettering themselves.
“I began to realize how much I had oversimplified poverty, and just how much I didn’t understand it,” she says. “I learned that if you lived in this slum, you often had to lie about your address just to get a job. No one would hire you simply because of where you lived. I realized that there were people living there with skills and talents who wanted to work to support their families, but their circumstances made that very difficult.”
Not long after Tran’s visit, more than a thousand people were killed in the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. Tran realized those victims were just like the people she met in Guatemala, and decided to dedicate herself to affecting positive change through the fashion industry for impoverished workers.
“What started off as a passion for a single slum community in Guatemala bloomed into a passion to take on the fashion industry,” Tran says. “I began learning how fashion was wrought with human rights abuses, how people were overworked and underpaid, how people died regularly.”
From that passion, Root Collective was born. The shoe company – which Tran runs out of her Raleigh home – employs poverty-stricken artisans from around the world to hand-make boots, flats and loafers.
“We partner directly with small-scale businesses in these communities because the business leaders there can understand the culture of those communities in a way that I never will,” says Tran. “I want to see them empowered to lead the change that’s needed. We meet our partner artisans in a variety of ways; sometimes through existing nonprofits and sometimes through simply going to communities where we know there’s skilled labor.”
The shoes themselves feature classic styling with a global flair. The Espe boot, for instance, has a clean, rounded shape and low heel with a pop of color and texture via a patterned fabric back panel.
“We take looks that won’t go out of style right away and add our own flair through handwoven textiles and fun colors,” Tran says.
Tran’s shoes are available locally at The Flourish Market, as well as on her website, therootcollective.com. As demand for the line grows – it recently sold out during a flash sale on the popular site, Zulily – Tran hopes her shoes will serve as an example to both business owners and consumers that the influence of the retail market can truly help those most in need.
“I want it to inspire others to use their business as a force for good and realize the impact that we can each have on a daily basis,” she says. “I want consumers to understand the power they have every single time they pull out their wallet.”
StyleFinder Boutique in Raleigh shows its customers some love this Valentine’s week with two events. On Feb. 14, all customers will receive roses and valentines, and a cosmetic bag and chocolates with a $50 purchase. And on Feb. 16, the boutique will host a workshop, Secrets of Style: Style Revolution, at 6 p.m. Attendees will learn how to harness their personal style and use it to find clothing that flatters. To sign up for the free workshop, call 919-454-3068.
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