TOUCHENG (Taiwan News) — A startup based on Taiwan's emerald east coast is launching a fundraiser Monday (Aug. 16) with the aim of selling its sandals worldwide to improve the livelihoods of workers it employs in the slums of Manila.
Yilan County's Toucheng is nestled between the mist-wrapped foothills of the Xueshan mountain range and the Pacific. Less than an hour's drive from Taipei, the laid-back township is known for its ash gray volcanic sand, rice paddies, and surfers flocking to catch waves in the shadow of iconic Turtle Island.
It proved to be a good fit for Washingtonian Noah Kercher, himself a surfer and outdoors enthusiast, as he took his first step in the comfort shoe industry, and it is this backdrop that inspired the name of the enterprise: Ziran (自然), Mandarin for "nature" or "natural." Kercher said he started it to make a difference in people's lives "while also sharing my passion for the outdoors."
The startup has sold over 350 pairs of thongs in its three years and invested US$6,000 in Tondo, the second-most densely populated district in the Philippine capital and home to one of Southeast Asia's largest concentrations of slums.
Kercher said this has benefitted over 100 Tondo residents, including the men and women involved in production and their families. "That money trickles down to help the family and local economy."
The rubber soles of the flip-flops come from salvaged airplane tires that are retired due to wear and tear from rough landings and would otherwise end up in landfills, Kercher said. The leather is "ethically sourced" and of "premium quality."
Through its fundraiser on the StartSomeGood crowdfunding platform, the Ziran team is hoping for a boost in brand awareness leading to more orders and steadier work in the Philippines. The social business is shooting to raise US$3,000, with a stretch goal of US$5,000, which it said would also support marketing and sales in Taiwan while allowing the startup to reach potential customers in North America, Australia, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
"With this money, we will be able to hire more workers, increase our production, and expand our reach to international markets," the eight-year Taiwan veteran said.
Those who donate at least $10 will receive a prize, ranging from a sticker, T-shirt, or pair of sandals to a weeklong "VIP Adventure Tour" around Taiwan (ticket to Taiwan not included).