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At first look, people may think that VOS Flips are like the sandal version of TOMS shoes. But talk to VOS Flips founder José Alejandro Flores and you’ll quickly see that there are more differences than similarities.
A “social entrepreneur” inspired by his family and his home country, Flores gives people more than just a free pair of shoes for every pair purchased. His company gives people a chance at healthy, longer lives.
Flores was born in Guatemala, but after the coffee plantation his grandfather owned was taken by the guerillas during the civil war of the 1980s, the family was forced to emigrate to the U.S. Flores’ father started a lawn care business in San Antonio, Texas, and from the time Flores was 8 years old, he joined his father at work.
“I mean, I didn’t really work. I’d pick up sticks, or rake leaves, but I just wanted to hang out with my dad. I’ve been inspired by my father and his entrepreneurial spirit my whole life,” Flores said.
I wanted VOS from the beginning to have sustainability. That means from the sourcing, meaning the rubber would be raw, all recyclable and natural, and use no petroleum-based by-products, all cultivated in Guatemala.
- Jose Flores, Founder of VOS Flips
By high school, Flores was able to return to Guatemala. He wanted to graduate at the same school as his father in Mezateango, a small town in the center of Guatemala.
After graduation, Flores returned to the U.S. to attend Texas Lutheran University, where he received his undergraduate degree in International Business. During college, Flores studied traveled to Spain, Brazil and Japan —obsessed he said, with seeing the world and intrigued by different cultures and cuisines. Flores then went on to receive his MBA from St. Mary’s University.
After finishing school, Flores took a different turn and went to Guatemala to play with the professional soccer team, Mazate, where he was a mid-fielder until he injured his left foot. That's when his father suggested he come to his senses and use his brain and his extensive education.
After moving quickly up the professional ladder, from the Publicist Group in Paris to the marketing department with Continental Airlines, it didn’t take Flores very long (three years to be exact) to figure out exactly what he needed to start his own brand, VOS Flips.
“I’d watched the importance of sandals from my time in Brazil, and playing in Guatemala, and traveling around the country and seeing kids playing in the dirt without shoes," he said. "But I wanted VOS from the beginning to have sustainability. That means from the sourcing, meaning the rubber would be raw, all recyclable and natural, and use no petroleum-based by-products, all cultivated in Guatemala.”
In 2008, Flores started VOS Flips — the name VOS, short for "vosotros," that in Spanish means “you.” By 2011, the VOS sandals were on the shelves of Whole Foods nationwide.
The success of the brand is largely due to partnerships with companies like Soles4Souls, the largest provider of shoe donations to people in need.
The real success of VOS Flips is the other aspects of the company. In addition to free shoes, VOS provides education and healthcare to the over 500 people working in the rubber plantation in Mezateango —chosen because it was the plantation most in need of help.
Money from the bottom-line sale of the shoes has already built a free clinic, and offers free health education workshops on everything from dental hygiene to family planning to vaccines for children.
VOS Flips was recently recognized as an award-winning humanitarian company at Rockefeller Center for the its use of sustainable practices. In Guatemala, it was honored as one the of the top three companies, competing with over 4,000 other companies, some with a history of over 60 years.
VOS Flips is also a participant of the United Nations Global Compact, dedicated to fighting for labor and human rights, the environment and against corruption.
Deflores LLC and the VOS brand take the bottom line a step further by being concerned not just with people, planet and profits, but also keeping the consumer in mind.
“We’ve developed a product that’s sourced sustainably and kept it at an affordable price," he said. "At $24.99 retail, we’re determined to make our model work even at the lower price."
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.