For entrepreneur Dan Fowler, the business exists as much for the employees as the customers.
Dan started Reunion Shoe Co. as a way to integrate his passion for serving the homeless community with his interest in fashion. To this end, Reunion Shoe Co. almost exclusively hires individuals coming out of homelessness.
“Back when I was working with homeless populations, I built a lot of cool relationships with people that have since gotten housed,” Dan recalled. “But while their safety has increased, most of them just weren’t thriving. The houses they were placed into are in pretty negative neighborhoods, and they’re now disconnected from the community on the street they were once a part of.”
“This job changed my life.” -Kenesha, Employee at Reunion Shoe Co.
Dan hopes to restore that sense of community and help his employees pursue purpose in the workplace.
When asked how he defines success, Dan shared, “A lot of social businesses talk about a double bottom line. We have to measure success by not just our financial bottom line, but by our social bottom line as well. Is our impact on the community a net positive or a net negative?”
“Sometimes that leads to counterintuitive business decisions. For example, I’ve hired more employees than I need, which a typical for-profit would view as a poor business decision. But since our business exists to give meaningful employment just as much as it exists to make shoes, it’s a smart decision for us.”
Dan got started on his business by attending a CO.STARTERS program at Launch NOLA, a StartSpark community. He said of his experience, “I’d love to go back and look at my CO.STARTERS binder and compare my plan then to my business now. It’s great because CO.STARTERS isn’t about making a plan to set in stone—it’s much more about giving you the tools you need to make a plan. They’re all necessary tools, the basic building blocks an entrepreneur needs.”
Reunion Shoe Co. has, along with every other business, been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Dan and the company were featured in a Better Homes & Gardens issue right before the virus hit America, so he had a major influx of orders to deal with when the business was forced to partially close. Since New Orleans was hit particularly hard with the disease, he couldn’t risk even hiring one person to help with production, especially considering how vulnerable his employees already are.
Thankfully, cases in New Orleans have fallen and Reunion is scheduled to get back on track. If you’re in need of a new pair of expressive kicks, check his store out. You’ll make double the difference for your feet and the world.