In this special editorial, Justine Lee, the founder of footwear company Soule, explains how “doing good” has snowballed the company’s role into something much larger—teaching corporations how to change the world.
Soule (a play on two words – “Soul” and “Sole”) was started as a project in the year 2008 when I returned from a humanitarian trip to China.
After witnessing the lack of proper footwear for the children in the rural villages, I thought about starting a footwear and apparel business that would make a difference for others: for every Soule product bought, part of the proceeds go into helping children in need.
Hence, Soule’s vision is to provide “a Sole for every Soul”. It was a simple dream; I just wanted to give school shoes to underprivileged children and help them to easier access to education.
I roped in two good friends, Lim Jing Ying and John Tay (then aged 16 and 17) to help me make this dream a reality. Fast forward 7 years later, Soule is still going strong. We have launched our 4th collection of flip flops, and have been able to distribute 1,568 pairs of school shoes to four elementary schools in Lincang, Yunnan, China.
Apart from just doing social good, the business side of Soule has evolved into something bigger than what we initially set out to do. In 2013, Soule also began offering services as corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultants to companies from China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
One of our clients is Shanghai Huaxiang, a wool garment-making company that had USD$70 million in turnover last year from selling its textiles to global fashion brands such as Sweden-based H&M and US-based Ann Inc, marketers of Ann Taylor apparel.
Soule is assisting Huaxiang in setting up its own foundation to provide educational loans to the children of Chinese factory workers who earn the minimum wage. Most of the workers the company is helping are from remote villages across China’s mainland and the foundation’s efforts would make a significant contribution to many of their lives.
The reason that Soule is now providing consulting services to corporations is because we believe that companies can do well and do good at the same time. Social capital is as important as financial capital, and people are becoming more conscious about brands and what they stand for. Corporate companies are also becoming more aware that CSR is a crucial part of their businesses as it affects their brand image and public relations. Just by writing a cheque and giving donations to a charitable organization does not cut it; these acts cannot be considered corporate social responsibility. Soule wants to help organizations to take on a more active role and be involved in the process of doing social good that is sustainable and has measurable social impact, at the same time, leave a mark on the upper management’s hearts as they are personally involved with the people they are helping.
Another hallmark of our consulting services is that it directs our clients to craft long-term programs instead of the usual one-off CSR events. International clients such as Meiji have recognized the importance of CSR and social capital. Meiji partnered Soule to develop a CSR programme to help needy families in Singapore. Soule helped to design a 12-month programme for Meiji, where the company adopts 15 low-income families living in rental blocks and distribute groceries to them on a bi-weekly basis. These initiatives have helped to ease the financial burdens of the families and are being recognized and supported by the grassroot leaders in the community.
When I first started Soule, it was just a simple dream of wanting to start a company to help children. But who would have thought that today we could speak to giants in the corporate world and help them to help more people. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s been worth it. How we got so far is certainly not by our own human intellect or by pure luck. I thank God for His divine grace upon Soule. When God gives us the vision He will always give us the provision. We also want to thank our mentors and leaders from City Harvest Church, Pastor Tan Ye Peng and Pastor Tan Yah Lan for sowing God’s word into our lives since Soule first started.
If God has given to you a dream, but you do not see much result yet, do not give up. Nothing becomes great overnight. Stay faithful. It is as my favorite saying goes:
“Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” ~ Mother Teresa
Many people want to do great things. But we must all be willing to do the small things first. Our character is being molded when we remain humble and stay faithful in doing the little things. Be kind to everyone you meet, be appreciative, and stay positive. As Mother Teresa also said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”