By just looking at deux mains footwear, you would never know these beautifully handcrafted sandals have been lifting communities out of poverty for nearly a decade, nor that they are made from repurposed tires in Haiti. The visionary behind the brand is Julie Colombino, a disaster-response volunteer turned fashion entrepreneur.
To fully appreciate the deux mains brand, you must start at the beginning. January 12, 2010, the day an earthquake destroyed Haiti. Colombino arrived in Haiti just 10 days later to serve as a disaster-response volunteer for earthquake survivors. However, Colombino quickly realized the women who survived this horrible disaster were not just looking for ways to endure the day, but they were looking to sustainably create livelihoods for themselves. “There was black smoke that surrounded the city from burning tires,” she recalls, “and I remembered living in Africa, where people made and sold sandals crafted from tires. And I thought that is exactly what we should do here.” Shortly after, Colombino started the nonprofit REBUILD globally to train these women to make sandals from the tires they found in the streets. As the popularity of the recycled tire sandals surged, Colombino turned the training center in a business, deux mains (which means “two hands” in French), where dozens of Haitian craftsmen and-women now make a living wage and support themselves and their families; rebuilding their country one sandal at a time. “We are making beautiful products, fighting poverty sustainably, and allowing women all over the globe to make purchases that matter,” she says. “I cannot think of anything more fashionable.”
After years of living and working in Haiti, Colombino returned to The City Beautiful, where her efforts continue to be supported by the community and the green initiatives set in place under the leadership of Mayor Buddy Dyer, and by passionate citizens who are interested in making the ethical fashion movement as powerful and impactful as the farm-to-table movement. Colombino continues to share the success of her hybrid model with local social entrepreneurs at Rollins College and UCF, as well as at conferences around the country and women’s leadership summits.
Colombino shares, “Any person interested in social business, or an innovative business model, doesn’t have to be a business person to make a huge impact. My advice to anyone who sees a problem and feels compelled to make a difference is to persevere and use your innate passion and entrepreneurial drive to start something…anything that is bigger than yourself. You will never regret it.”