Sole by Sole
Juntos’s Mauricio Laniado and Andrew Tupper with the education backpacks and some of their Ecuadorean recipients.

They say you can never really understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. After spending his adolescence playing in the popular canvas shoes of the Ecuadorean working class, Mauricio Laniado decided to make them his own.

Laniado, an Ecuador-born Miami native, enlisted the creative efforts of business partner Andrew Tupper to launch Miami-based Juntos, a fashion start-up that produces a sole-full spin on the traditional Ecuadorean zapato de lona (canvas shoe). As part of Juntos’s homage to its source of inspiration, for every pair sold, the company donates an educational backpack stuffed with school supplies to a child at the Niños con Futuro foundation in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

“I grew up seeing the shoes as a kid,” remembers Laniado, who spent his childhood summers in Ecuador. The footwear carries an identifiable cultural and historic significance, and 30 years of Ecuadorean history are sewn into its seams. “It’s part of this particular socioeconomic sector,” Tupper explains of the proudly worn iconic items. “The day-laborers wear these shoes, and so their kids wear these shoes. Then you have their entire families and entire neighborhoods that are wearing these shoes.”

Sole by Sole
Trying on shoes at last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach.

By extension, and due to the shoe’s grip, Ecuador’s rising soccer stars also lace up in canvas to play indoors. “When I was training with the U-20 [under-20] national team, I started seeing the shoes in a different light,” Laniado says. “And when I came back to Miami, I would wear them.” Stateside, the shoe took on new meaning, as friends and passers-by continually stopped Laniado on the street to ask where he’d bought his kicks.

A few years and college entrepreneurship classes later, Laniado realized the business potential. After an introduction through mutual friends in 2010, Laniado and Tupper embarked on their globally beneficial partnership.

Tupper was instantly drawn to the project. “When [Mauricio] was describing this whole story and background, and his idea of potentially redesigning and manufacturing a shoe like that and bringing it to an entirely different [group] of people, that just immediately grabbed my attention in a really powerful way,” he remembers.

Sole by Sole
Children hold up packs containing a year’s worth of school supplies, including notebooks, pencils, and rulers.

To Laniado and Tupper, giving back was an inherent part of the Juntos business model. During a six-month stint in which Laniado taught English to Ecuadorean children at Niños con Futuro, the idea for the education packs was devised.

“It became clear that there were these super-deserving students who were missing simple school supplies, things that students [in the US] take for granted,” Tupper explains. “It was something that we could do. It was something that was very realistic, very meaningful and impactful.”

The Niños con Futuro foundation has a long-standing reputation in Ecuador, both in Guayaquil—also Laniado’s birthplace—and the surrounding neighborhoods. “I would say 50 percent [of children] come from within a very close proximity to the foundation,” estimates Laniado of the foundation’s reach. “And 50 percent come from different parts because they’re connected with either donors or companies that help raise funds for the foundation.”

Sole by Sole
Each pair of Juntos features a map of Ecuador.

These sponsored children receive schooling, daily meals, and support. Where sponsorship dollars end, fundraising and resource donations—like Juntos’s packs—fill the gaps.

“I was working with third graders up to sophomores,” Laniado says. “We’d start off by learning the ABCs, and then we’d do some coloring books. That was kind of hard because we had to share colors. We had to draw different animals odd colors sometimes because we didn’t have the resources to color them in with the right color. We had to share two boxes of crayons with the class [of] 25 kids.”

Each donated school-bus-yellow education pack—a deliberate color choice signifying the hope education can bring—provides a child with a year’s worth of school supplies, including notebooks, pens, pencils, colored pencils, scissors, and rulers. And in an effort to support local Ecuadorean businesses, Laniado and Tupper source supplies for the packs from stores in the region.

Sole by Sole
The shoes turned heads at a private showcase at Soho Beach House during last year’s Art Basel.

When they initially introduced the concept to Niños con Futuro and dropped off a first round of backpacks, “It was like Christmas morning to them,” Tupper remembers of the kids’ reaction. Laniado’s experience hit a little closer to home. “Being Ecuadorean, I was definitely proud that I was able to fulfill such a basic [need] for a child,” he explains.

With the back end worked out and humanitarian efforts squared away, Juntos made a soft-launch splash at last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, unveiling the shoe at a private showcase at Soho Beach House.

“The reaction was incredible,” Tupper remembers. “It was very, very strong. At that point, we had something solid happening.”

Laniado and Tupper’s efforts have paid off—literally. Juntos’s e-commerce platform launched in August, and at the time of writing, Juntos had surpassed its stretch goal of $20,000, reaching more than $35,000 through the sales of shoes, collection look books, student-signed education packs, and fundraising. As a result, Laniado and Tupper will make another drop of 500-plus backpacks to kids who need them.

Looking ahead, Juntos hopes to expand its inventory and reach more children in need. This month, the company returns to Art Basel and will release a selection of new colors including the mucho-traditional black-on-black and a jungle green. Beyond that, “If we meet the level of success that we’re aiming at and the level of impact we’re trying to get to, there’s no doubt we’re going to branch out with other foundations and schools and deserving students,” Tupper says. Certainly a tall order, but Juntos can step up to the challenge.

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