What started as a pilot project in Kabul making sandals has now become a major lifestyle brand that employs thousands of local craftsmen and women in conflict zones all over the world. After serving, Matthew Griffin and fellow airborne Ranger Donald Lee recognized that the factories producing military gear in Afghanistan were going to become obsolete. During the seven tours between the two of them in the region, the founders of the company were constantly astonished by the creativity, respect, and determination of the Afghani people.
Griffin and Lee agreed that extremism finds easy prey in areas that are starving for resources. Rather than heading home upon completion of their duty, they went back unarmed. Combat Flip Flops was born from the idea of transitioning from war to peace.
Griffin and Lee enlisted Griffin’s brother, designer and co-founder Andy Sewrey, to come to Afghanistan develop their flagship product: a comfy, durable sandal, referred to the AK-47. Sewrey looked around him and realized he had no shortage of inspiration: poppies, tuck-tucks, bullet casings, and combat boots. They took the raw materials from the boots and redesigned them into flip-flops. Having almost no budget, the small team had to get scrappy about material and funding.
“We sold a car and a few other things and we came up with samples and we literally threw all our samples in a duffel bag and went to a Vegas to a trade show,” Griffin recalled. “People thought they were cool and bought them and we sold thousands right out of the gate.”
It became apparent that their model and philosophy were working, and when one factory became two, they added new products and pumped the money back into the communities, providing local citizens with jobs and opportunities.
Combat Flip Flops’ main production hub is in Bogata Columbia, where women-owned and operated factories make shoes and scarves. They have also partnered with makers all over the world and worked with displaced Syrian refugees in Beirut. In these factories, creative repurposing of bomb casings into bracelets and necklace charms made from recovered mines helps reduce the environmental impact from the after-effects of war.
Every pair of AK-47s sold — and in fact every single item on the website — funds an Afghani girl’s education for up to seven days. Since the literacy rate for girls in Kabul hovers around 15%, that is a significant infusion of education investment. Early education provides kids with upward mobility and makes them less vulnerable to fundamentalist recruiters.
Combat Flip Flops is a great example of soldiers taking their know-how and big hearts and using their powers to enact good after they have left the battlefield. These guys are committed to reducing the threat of war by trying to stabilize local communities one by one. “Employ the parents, educate the children” is the company’s informal motto.
You can check out the many fine products under the Combat Flip Flops brand here and because it’s a veteran-owned and operated nonprofit organization, all the proceeds go directly to educating young people in conflict zones.
Support soldiers — and the communities that they work so hard to protect.