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LadyM Meets CJ Bowry Founder of Sals Shoes

A few weeks ago I attended the HubDot third anniversary.  What is this event I hear you cry?  Well it’s an awesome concept of brining together women to help share experiences, tell a story and most importantly not be labelled whilst you do it.  Rather than being a name, a title, a company – you are a colour.  Whether your inspired, have a story to tell, have an idea you want help with, you pick a coloured dot and HubDot brings women together to help inspire them to achieve their goals.

LadyM Meets CJ Bowry founder of Sals Shoes

At the HubDot third anniversary held at Anthropologie on the Kings Road, London, we heard from amazing women who had a story to tell, an idea to share and one of those was CJ Bowry of Sals Shoes. Two years ago, when faced with a collection of her son Sal’s outgrown shoes, CJ sought out charities who could donate them to those most in need. Did you know that there are 300 million children in the world for whom walking with shoes is a rarity.  Despite this and rather surprisingly, there wasn’t a single organisation that could tell CJ where Sal’s pre-loved shoes would actually end up. So… she created the not-for-profit organisation organisation Sal’s Shoes and in their first year, they collected 4,805 pairs of shoes and distributed them in eight countries, including the UK. Isn’t that amazing!

Sals Shoes Pre-Loved shoe donations

Let’s hear from CJ and get a little bit behind the scenes with an amazing woman, fabulous mother and find out more about Sal’s Shoes and how she does it all!

Sals Shoes Pre-Loved shoe donations

Q. What encouraged you to start Sals Shoes and what was your route into it?

My son Sal was almost two before he walked, but it wasn’t that long after that I had acquired a bag full of his outgrown shoes which still had so much wear left in them. I contacted some charities that collect pre-loved shoes but none could tell me where exactly in the world Sal’s donated shoes would end up walking again and this lack of accountability really bothered me. I decided to cut out the middle man and send his shoes directly to some children I knew of in need, in a hospital ward in a city in Zambia, via a friend volunteering there.

I received back a photograph of a little boy thousands of miles away wearing what had been Sal’s very first pair of shoes. Doing good feels good and I posted the photo on social media. The response I received was enough to encourage me to collect my friends kids out grown shoes and send another consignment, this time to a farm in rural Zambia.

Sals Shoes Pre-Loved shoe donations

When I posted these photos on social media, I tagged all of my friends who had donated shoes. The even bigger response led me to form Sal’s Shoes: we started with an HMRC charities registration, a logo, a bank account, a mailing address, platforms on social media and approached three locations to act as drop off locations.

Q. What is a typical working day for you?

I don’t have one and I relish this. I run Sal’s Shoes from my phone in between and amongst the demands of my life: 2 teenage step kids, 5 year old Sal, a toddler, a dog that needs walking, a house that needs running, my husband’s property business that needs managing, friends I want to have fun with and family I want to spend time with.
Q. Where are you based, how much of an inspiration is your city and what are your favourite cities around the world?

I’m based wherever I am at any given time but Sal’s Shoes has a mailing address, a packing and storage unit and an office in Surrey. We’re 15 miles from London, and a train ride from the multi-cultural hot pot that it is. I’m inspired every time I cross the bridge and always sad to leave it behind. I spent my teenage summers visiting my dad in Accra, where he was working, and it will always hold a place in my heart for the carefree, fun-filled, sun shining months I spent there.

My husband proposed to me in New York and the memory of waking up with a ring on my finger, knowing he had taken my high sense of embarrassment into consideration and knew a bended knee moment would have toppled me, always leaves a wry smile on my face.

I was fortunate as a child to experience a lot of travelling and hope to always be able to take my own children on similar adventures. Last year we set off for a month long experience around South America; the first port of call was Santiago and the days that followed walking the streets and acclimatising us to the path ahead, after a 13 hour day flight with a 1 year old and 3 year old in tow, set me up for the long haul.

Q. How have the reactions been to the project that you run and how important is it for you to build on what you have done in the first two years?

I am blown away by the positive support we have received and everyone’s willingness to jump aboard with open arms. We have achieved what we have with a phone, from a garage, with the help of supportive friends and relatively little in the way of financial support; I am so excited to see what we can achieve if we can realise some serious funding.

Sals Shoes Pre-Loved shoe donations

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your work?  What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

The most rewarding part of our work is, I think, is shifting people’s opinion that the beneficiaries of charitable work are only the recipients. The handwritten notes we receive from kids here in the UK who donate their shoes illustrate the benefits of being a donor. The children who send us their outgrown shoes understand the Sal’s Shoes concept; by donating their shoes they’re learning about recycling, and other cultures, and sharing, and generosity of spirit.

Sals Shoes Pre-Loved shoe donations

What is next for you?  What are your goals for 2016?

To keep finding new feet for pre-loved shoes, and to double the number of shoes we collected in 2015.

Sals Shoes Pre-Loved shoe donations

Bonus Question – if you didn’t do the job you do now – what would be your dream job and where?

I never really knew as a child what I wanted to do, and I never as an adult really meant to set up Sal’s Shoes, I just sent off a bag of shoes. In hindsight I spent my teens being educated, my twenties gaining a wealth of experience in a variety of jobs, and now in my thirties I have landed on my feet utilising all those skills gained doing something that is allowing me to thrive.

You can find out more about the Sal’s Shoes story here on their website and follow the story on Twitter.  It is such an amazing organisation and one that will continue from strength to strength.  If you want to donate pre-loved shoes you can find out about upcoming collections via the website.

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