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Adelante Shoe Co: Using shoes as a tool for social impact

Adelante Shoe Co., founded by a Fletcher alum who won last year’s 100k Competition, sells high quality shoes while improving the lives of its craftsmen in Guatemala. 

Peter Sacco, F17, never thought he would run a shoe company. His passion for Latin America and economic development lead him to a master’s program at the Tufts Fletcher School. There, he saw an opportunity to use entrepreneurship as a tool for social impact – and Adelante Shoe Co. was born.

Adelante works with craftsmen in Guatemala to make high-quality shoes for men and women, while paying the shoemakers enough to support a quality life. The company has evolved since it won first place in the 2017 Tufts $100k New Ventures Competition in the Social Impact track.

A man hand-crafts a shoe

The original idea was a company that makes socially responsible shoes that do not compromise on quality, style, or price. One year after the initial concept, Adelante deploys a made-to-order business model that delivers high quality shoes within 10 days directly to the customer.

“This business model itself is pretty revolutionary,” Sacco says. “Nobody is doing what we’re doing.”

Forming a stronger connection between the buyer and craftsman is vital to Adelante’s socially-minded mission, so each customer receives a video introducing them to their craftsman as he starts to make their shoes.

“That opens the door to really caring about the craftsmen,” Sacco says. “It’s really resonating with our customers.”

Adelante Shoe Co. presents a prize

To determine a just compensation for the craftsmen in Guatemala, Sacco and his team developed the “Living Well Line,” a methodology incorporating two sources: Economic data from the World Bank, plus input from actual members in each community on what they themselves believe is fair compensation for their lifestyle.

“By paying the shoemakers above the Living Well Line, they are able to live well with their families, and catalyze social mobility,” Sacco says. “We believe this is more effective economic development than what a traditional NGO or government aid could do.”

In parts of Latin America, many of the skilled craftsmen can struggle to find a market for their shoes, which is mostly a cottage industry. Adelante connects the craftsmen with buyers in the U.S. who are willing to pay more for well-made shoes. Shoes sell in the range of $200 – $300, around half the price of brands of comparable quality.

“In these Guatemalan towns, nobody has access to international markets,” Sacco says. “There’s just not enough demand consistently year-round for these guys to make a good living.”

Sacco was inspired to found a socially-minded business after spending time volunteering and working for NGOs in Latin America after college, at organizations that were well-meaning but not always making a long-term impact.

“In a lot of my nonprofit development work, I felt like I was just putting Band-Aids on problems,” Sacco says.

After taking some business classes at Fletcher, he formed Adelante and started to leverage resources for student entrepreneurs at Tufts – especially the 100k Competition, which led to prize money and in-kind resources, as well as valuable connections to local entrepreneurs.

Mark Ranalli, Executive Director of Tufts Gordon Institute, has served as a mentor for Sacco throughout the company’s development. He says that Sacco’s passion for the company’s mission is a key trait to any successful entrepreneur.

“At no point did Peter lose his North Star – the desire to create a socially-impactful business and improve the lives of Guatemalans,” Ranalli says.

Adelante has sold around 1,500 pairs of shoes in the U.S. so far, and Sacco has high hopes for the company after a successful first year. He is looking forward to expanding into wallets, bags, and belts, all with a continued focus on high quality products.

Four pairs of shoes

Sacco says he hopes Adelante can be an example for other entrepreneurs to show that business and capitalism are tools that can be used for social good.

“We can choose how to use [capitalism] in a way that adds more or less value to a society,” Sacco says. “At Adelante, we are choosing to use it in a way that helps reshape the broader standards by which other people use it.”