Matthew "Griff" Griffin’s life changed when he was in a combat boot factory in Afghanistan and saw a flip-flop thong punched through the sole of a combat boot.
The Seattle native, 36, and Army Ranger veteran was working as a government contractor at the time, setting up medical clinics when he toured the facility. He went back to his hotel room that night, registered the domain name combatflipflops.com and a small business was born.
“Our concept was to create flip-flops in a combat boot factory in Afghanistan,” said Griffin.
“The one thing that I saw when I was traveling around to Asia, Africa, all throughout the Middle East, Persia, was that small businesses were really the sustainable driving factor,” he said.
As an Army Ranger deployed to Afghanistan, Griffin had been embedded with locals and witnessed how difficult it was for them to survive, making them easy targets for terrorists to manipulate.
“I really like the symbolism of taking something that’s made for combat to making something that’s for chilling and relaxing,” Griffin said.
So the company designed flip-flops with heavy duty combat boot rubber outsoles and casual thong uppers. The story and mission gained attention. The company was overwhelmed with orders on its first run of sandals.
But starting a small business in Afghanistan was as hard as it seems. The first run of flip-flops was all defective and had to be given away to locals. The materials for the second run were stuck on the Pakistan border, unable to make it to the factory.
With a patient but eager customer base, they had to get creative, sending all the materials to his garage in Seattle where his co-founders, Andy Sewrey,42, and fellow soldier Donald Lee, 39, turned his garage into a factory and made 4,000 pairs of sandals themselves.
Realizing that the dream of making flop-flops in Afghanistan might not be possible, the team moved its manufacturing to Colombia, another war-torn country recovering from years of conflict.
However, the company expanded beyond flip-flops and now makes sarongs and shemaghs at a female-owned factory in Kabul, Afghanistan, where part of the proceeds go towards the education of women in secondary school.