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Alastair Onglingswan

Alastair Onglingswan founded GreenSoul Shoes, employing local artisans to upcycle waste into shoes. Through a one-for-one model, Alastair’s endeavor brings income and footwear to communities in need of both, invigorating local economies.

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Alastair Onglingswan
“I can’t remember any of the 50 kids who got shoes, but I can remember the 51st child who didn’t get a pair. His name was Marcello.”

Alastair Onglingswan knew there was more to the Philippines than the elite five-star attractions previous visits to the country had led him to. Though he knew of the country’s poverty, “where 5% of the wealthiest people own 95% of the wealth,” he wasn’t quite prepared for the massive Payatas Dump, called “Smoky Mountain,” he encountered while venturing to the outskirts of Manila.

A city in its own right, this trash heap reaches seven stories high in places, with shantytowns running arteries through the trenches. Children scramble down the sides, spending their days ferreting out valuable metals and scraps amidst health-threatening toxins and smoky plumes of dioxin-laced air. Alastair noted their vulnerable bare feet to which some had tied tire scraps for protection. Inspired, Alastair called upon two former finance barons, Stephen Chen and Iris Chau, to join him in launching GreenSoul Shoes. The result is a company with a triple-bottom-line approach that is at once ambitious, admirable, and achievable: “the more people we touch and help, the more successful we are. It is our goal to shoe 1 million children in five years."

Local artisans are employed to make shoes by upcycling waste materials — such as tires — that are readily available in their community. This creates a second life for trash, thereby removing it from the waste stream and encourages local economic development through more stable means of production. Alastair’s business model also increases the artisans’ income, lifting many out of poverty. These local artisans are “championed in the community. This causes two effects: a) products are less of a novelty and the local children are more likely to wear the shoes and less likely to sell them to make money and b) there is a communal watchdog effect,” he says.