Every startups got its low points. Sometimes it can feel like getting trampled by a raging bull. But when those low points hit me, I like to pause, and think of the experience of Matt Griffin, general badass and founder of Combat Flip Flops.
That’s Matt in the picture, the guy trying to hang his flip flops on the horns of the bull. It was taken just a few days before we connected via skype from halfway around the world. But in order to understand what he’s doing there, you must first understand what he’s doing in general.
After beginning his career as a US Army Ranger and serving three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq Griffin – Griff for short – was “invited back” to Afghanistan in a private sector consulting position. It was there, while on a tour of a factory that he saw a flip flop made from the sole of a combat boot. It was an ugly little thing, likely made as a joke, but in that instant an idea was born. The concept was to create a footwear brand that expressed the unique culture of Afghanistan, and was produced within their borders, helping to stabilize the job industry and provide economic opportunity as the allies drew down their military presence.
The idea seemed solid enough, but the team was battling a clock. Their first production round of 2,000 pairs was a flop (no pun intended), and with troop drawdowns increasing and the demand for military equipment plummiting, factories were closing their doors left and right. Just as he was closing the door on a shipping container full of materials for 3,000 pairs of flip flops, he got a call saying that his factory needed him to commit to 80,000 pairs in the next year, or they too would have to close. With 2,000 pairs down the drain, and more than 3,000 pairs worth of materials without a home, Griff did the only thing he could do: He shipped the container to his house.
“We had no idea how to make flip flops,” he said “So we did what anybody would do, we googled it.” After selling one of his cars, and some of his toys, they raided an old manufacturing plant and secured the low tech machinery needed to turn his 600 sq ft garage into a flip flop factory. “It took a few weeks of 5 am to midnight” he said, but they got the shipment done, and Combat Flip Flops was on the chart.
The experience of crafting thousands of pairs of flip flops in a garage gave rise to the company’s next big idea. Something they call their Expeditionary Production Facility, a full on flip flop factory which fits in a single shipping container, and can be dropped anywhere in the world. CFF plans to ship these EPFs to some of the most conflict ridden places on earth – Columbia, Afghanistan, Parts of East Africa – and provide what is essentially a turnkey solution for jobs, and income. Working with a group of marketers, supply line specialists, and craftsmen CFF is poised to change the way we pick up the pieces of violent conflict.
Their motto really says it all – “Bad for running, worse for fighting”. A tongue in cheek reference to the power of responsible industry to stabilize conflict zones. It’s a slogan that Griff has taken upon himself time and time again to prove, running first from attack dogs, and most recently with the bulls in Pamplona.
If you dig what they’re doing, agree with the idea of driving economic development in conflict zones, or simply want to learn more check out their indiegogo campaign here.
This article first appeared on MISSION.tv. You can find it and lots of other cool stuff here