Justine Lee, co-founder of social enterprise Soule Apparels, shares his childhood inspiration for its “buy one, give one” idea.
"I was in primary school when I started my first business venture: selling erasers bearing prints of various country flags, commonly known as ‘country erasers’.
It all began when I noticed something special about these erasers: they had more than one use. More than pieces of stationery, country erasers were used as pawns in exciting games of ‘country eraser wars’.
Flipping the flat piece of rubber over, using just one finger, the aim was to get your eraser to land on top of your opponent's.
I remember my little red coin pouch filling up quickly with erasers won from my opponents, which I then sold at a full profit of 10 cents apiece – an irresistible price compared to what was being charged at our school’s bookshop.
Although my little business scheme got shut down eventually, I vividly remember the power of combining two selling points into one.
That memory has fuelled the concept behind Soule Apparels. When you buy a pair of footwear from us, we donate a pair of school shoes to a needy child – our concept is ‘buy one, give one’.
It's the appeal of two-in-one: you don’t just get something new for yourself or a loved one, but you also help some of the 300 million children worldwide who are forced by poverty to go barefoot.
When I give talks at schools these days, I’m always amazed by the number of young students asking for tips on starting a business. My advice to them is always to start small, with a simple but strong idea.
You never know where that one moment of inspiration will take you."
Justine Lee, 21, is a Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate who was moved by his encounter with children in rural China who travel across mountainous terrain barefoot to reach their schools. He and his team mates won the top prize at the SIF’s inaugural Young Social Entrepreneurs programme in 2010 for their business plan: to buy and deliver a pair of shoes to a village child in Lincang, China for every pair of flip flops sold by Soule.