Creating a line of socially conscious footwear with Peter Sacco by Sean Silbert

by tuftsigl
Oct 24

Peter Sacco, a second-year student at the Fletcher School, is a 2016 Empower Fellowship recipient. He used his fellowship to travel to Guatemala and work with local craftsmen to begin a socially conscious line of luxury footwear. Check it out at Adelante Shoe Co. launches with a Kickstarter campaign on November 25.

What drove your interest in Latin America?
When I was in high school, my parents got divorced and my mom would let me plan the family vacations. I love to surf, and I had these images of idyllic white sand beaches in my mind, probably from the images in surf magazines that I subscribed to. The first place we went was Costa Rica. I was expecting paradise, which it was, but it was also a lot of other things – a lot of poverty, a lot of inequality. This fascinated me, so after graduating from UMass Amherst I spent a year volunteer teaching in Honduras, then moved to Guatemala and later Belize. Each time new trip to Latin America just builds on the last – it’s gone from fascination to some level of understanding, and a real desire to move things forward.

How did Adelante start?
I came to Fletcher on a mission to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I felt like I had a lot of passion and ambition, but I didn’t want to direct it towards anything I had done so far. I took this business class at Fletcher last fall, and at some point the light went on: social entrepreneurship could be the answer. I remembered that when I lived in Guatemala, I would sometimes pass through this town, Pastores, which was known for making cowboy boots. I decided to go down to Guatemala to see if the product was viable, and came back with some shoes and boots to be appraised. At that point, I pivoted to shoes and I started to have a lot of fun with it. I didn’t have much of a business background, so every day was and is a new challenge to overcome.

How did the Empower fellowship help you achieve your goals?
Around Christmas last year, I heard about the Institute for Global Leadership and the Empower fellowship from Lauren Smith, who was the graduate coordinator at the time. Lauren inspired me and made me aware that I could make my company happen if I wanted to. She led by example, as she was also starting a social enterprise, so it wasn’t unprecedented. The IGL is a phenomenal resource, and I’m super appreciative that it exists because it gives smart people the resources that they need to prove a concept at the idea stage. I applied and got funds from IGL to go down to Guatemala for the summer and start the first men’s and first women’s product line. For the most part, this is the product line that we’re using right now. That scholarship gave me the financial resources to make this possible: airfare, travel, living expenses, and bought many of the prototypes to get things going. And over the course of the past four to five months, which corresponds to us receiving that funding, the business has gone from 0-60 in growth.

How does Adelante work with people in Guatemala?
There’s just one main street in Pastores, which is lined with shoe stores, and I spent hours talking to people assessing the business environment down there. I found that everyone is competing with each other for the same market share, and no one has market access outside of Guatemala. I just went door to door and talking with various craftsmen, looking for ones who are smart, dedicated and do good work. What we’re doing is connecting them to the United States market and we’re paying them enough for themselves and their families to live well. It is a new social impact model that allows them to define what it means to live well. Together, we assign a monetary value to those things to find the living well line for that town. There’s a disparity between what that number ends up being and what the fair trade wage is in Guatemala. It’s not even close. I frame it as a fair price paid for a job well done.

Do you have any advice for people that are considering starting their own social enterprise?
Don’t wait. Dive right into it. Every moment that you spend hesitating is a moment that somebody else has the same idea and is acting on it. It’s also the same way to find out if it’s what you want to wake up and do every day. I think everybody should dabble in entrepreneurship while in school: not only do you have a big institution behind you with a lot of smart people, but you’re a student, so you might as well take advantage of an opportunity to create your own job. It’s a great transition point to try to make something happen.