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The Flip-Flops That Help Pay Medical Bills

The Flip-Flops That Help Pay Medical Bills
Image credit: Photography by Ben Alsop
Hari Mari flip-flops

Kids with cancer need a lot of things: access to medical care, supportive families, flip-flops. Flip-flops? Yes--if they're made by Hari Mari.

Entrepreneurial couple Jeremy and Lila Stewart founded the company when they returned to Dallas after living in Indonesia for several years. Their experience overseas broadened their awareness of large populations of people who lack access to good medical care. At the same time, living on a tropical island raised a less serious issue: They didn't want to wear real shoes every day. They decided to combine their wish to help others with their desire for laid-back footwear, and they chose to place their focus on causes related to pediatric cancer.

"Lots of companies do work abroad, but we wanted to help kids in the U.S.," Jeremy says.

Hari Mari flip-flops sell for $60 at mainly independent running, surf and outdoor shops. The company donates $3 from each sale ($6 in July) to hospital units that accept uninsured patients. The shoes are made of eco-friendly materials such as recycled rubber and feature a patent-pending memory-foam divider, designed to dispel the "common hatred for the piece of nylon between the first and second toe," Jeremy says. Last year the company sold 3,000 pairs; it's on track to quadruple that this year. A children's line and leather versions of the shoes are in development.

Hari Mari is not the first shoe company to build philanthropy into its business plan (think: Toms). "But we wanted the money to stay local," Lila says. "If the shoes are bought in Austin, the money goes to Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin." Online sales are tracked so they benefit institutions close to home.

But the financial support is just the start. Under Hari Mari's zero-landfill initiative folks are encouraged to send in old flip-flops (of any brand) in exchange for 15 percent off future online purchases. The footwear that's still wearable is donated; the rest will be recycled into an outdoor basketball court at a pediatric oncology unit.

The company's goal is to become a national shoe brand with a network of recipient hospitals; the first is Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Partnerships with facilities in Chicago, Atlanta and Tulsa, Okla., are in the works.

"We have gone out and thanked all those local retailers that carry Hari Mari," says Natalie Houghton, an annual giving specialist at Cook. "We were just starting a corporate giving program when they came to us, and this has made a big difference for our patients."

Margaret Littman is a journalist who covers small businesses, travel and all manner of other topics, with a sweet spot for anything relating to stand-up paddling or Music City. She is the author of the Nashville Essential Guide iPhone and Android app and many travel guidebooks. Her work has appeared in many national magazines, and she is the editor of Entrepreneur magazine’s Start It Up section.

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This article was originally published in the July 2013 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Stride Right.

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