I am all about fashion with a cause which is why I couldn’t resist sharing my latest find – Portovelo shoes. While fashion brands giving back to charity isn’t exactly a new concept (hello Toms!) I was excited when I learnt that Portovelo was actually the brainchild of born and bred Hong Konger Lavina Tien.
The Stanford graduate and ex-Google executive became interested in the idea of creating a social enterprise back in college. So she took her love of shoes and travel and created a stylish collection of lightweight canvas shoes that benefit a charitable cause. Each pair literally serves a purpose – for every purchase, Portovelo will donate 15 meals to a child-in-need in Mongolia.
“Travel exposed me to many real problems, and since my shoes were designed for travel, why not merge the two? Portovelo is in essence a shoe designed for the traveller who wants to make a difference, who wants to travel with purpose,” she says.
The shoe design itself combines the best of East and West – they are a hybrid of French Riviera boat shoes but are also a nostalgic nod to old Hong Kong’s bak fan yu slip on canvas shoes worn by locals. The design is simple with chic details including a striped rubber sole, and stripes on the front and back of the shoe. For the launch collection (spring/summer 2013) expect four colours – Chelsea Reds, Santorini White, London Slate and Pacific Blue, although Lavina plans to add new designs each season including tribal prints for autumn. Next up is also a men’s collection.
Ok so the question on everyone’s minds is how is Portovelo different to a brand like Toms?
“I am a big fan of Toms [but] I would say the difference is in the product design and mission. Portovelos are designed with the everyday traveller in mind – in other words more versatile situations with lots of walking, be it on the streets or grassy parks. We have a slim and lightweight rubber sole which makes the shoes easy and comfortable to walk in, but also very durable. The wave-design grip at the bottom of the sole also fares well on rainy days,” says Lavina.
Another point of difference is the mission behind it – Portovelo aims to cast a wider net by choosing a different cause to donate to each year. This year Lavina has partnered with Flourishing Futures NGO in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, a charity she personally volunteers for. While beneficiaries will change each year, the long term goal is to ask customers to vote for a cause or charity of their choice.
“I need to make sure whatever organisation we help is transparent, accountable and uses funds wisely and efficiently. I also love directly connecting with the families and kids we’re helping because we get to step in their shoes (no pun intended) and understand, just for a little bit, what their lives are like,” she says.
What could be better than that?
Protovelo is available online at www.portovelo.com