For 79 years, Two Ten Footwear Foundation, the charity dedicated to helping provide shoes to people in need, has been a powerful force in uniting the industry for good. As the organization preps for its annual gala on Dec. 5, its needs are greater than ever — emergency-call volume has increased nearly 20 percent year over year. The group is banking on the annual fundraiser to drive much-needed donations — and industry vets Sam and Libby Edelman are leading the charge, along with son Jesse Edelman, as gala co-chairs.
“Every year is different, and this time, the Edelmans are bringing an enormous amount of creative energy to the gala. From the start, they wanted it to be more accessible and for people who typically don’t attend to be there,” said Neal Newman, president of Two Ten.
Last year, father-son duo Bob and Seth Campbell fueled the fundraiser with their focus on the next generation, helping to raise $3.6 million. Now the Edelmans are taking the same idea of involving more emerging leaders in next-level planning — and aiming to help Two Ten raise $3.7 million overall.
To enhance a sense of community, the gala will focus on a new format. Rather than two separate events, the fete will gather 850 shoe people in one room at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
“We approached [organizing the event as a way] to bring everyone together in democratic union and talk about the future of the industry,” said Sam Edelman, president and co-founder of his namesake brand. “We also felt if we could do it as a family, this would be a wonderful way to meld young and older [generations].”
The Two Ten Associate Board, which comprises future young leaders, including Jesse, has created special initiatives for the evening to help further execute the goal of inclusion.
For instance, in addition to launching a silent auction ahead of the event via a mobile app, associate board members will be manning electronic “jars” during cocktail hour. (Guests will be able to dip their credit card to make specific gifts for footwear families in need.)
“The donations don’t have to be in the thousands; it can just be a couple of dollars,” Jesse said.
Even the smallest donations can go a long way: $25 can buy a school backpack, $50 can go toward a bag of groceries, while $75 can keep the heat on for a month.
“It’s transparent,” added Sam. “That’s something millennials are interested in, and it will help people realize the importance of their donations.”
While the evening is expected to be a fun refresh, the future of Two Ten relies on this annual event. “This year, we are aiming to deliver over $2.2 million of emergency assistance for the year,” Newman said. “Last year, we went $600,000 over budget to address the crisis in Puerto Rico. Given that this has been another extraordinary year with hurricanes and now with the California wildfires, we need to raise more money than we ever have.”
However, he said the gala has another big benefit: bringing people together. “The more success we will have as an industry will happen because we are [working as one],” Newman said.
The group will also be honoring three dedicated members of the industry — Zappos.com; Skechers president Michael Greenberg; and Katie Butler, SVP/GM of Franco Sarto at Caleres — for their tireless philanthropic efforts. There will also be a moment dedicated to 12 unsung heroes, including FDRA president and CEO Matt Priest and OrthoLite’s Glenn Barrett, who will be celebrated for their work behind the scenes.
Two Ten’s chairman, Greg Tunney, president of Hush Puppies, reiterated how important the big night is to the success of Two Ten. “The gala represents over 50 percent of total annual revenues. Every year, there are new people in the industry, so the education and awareness need to continue,” Tunney said.
As the footwear industry consolidates, Tunney stressed how important it is that companies and individuals remain active. “We are blessed to have a $40 million endowment, and it continues to grow. I would call that our gas tank, but it’s not a piggy bank. We want it to be there for generations to come, so we need to be effective and efficient.”
For more on the award winners, read on.
A Walk to Remember
As a young child, Skechers president Michael Greenberg spent several years serving as a helper and mentor to special-needs students at his elementary school. Decades later, that experience inspired him to co-found the Friendship Foundation, a Southern California nonprofit that supports such children and their families through one-on-one peer mentoring and social and recreational activities such as art classes, movie nights, summer camps, outings to sporting events and more.
“Special-needs kids are often isolated socially, so the idea is to bring them together with mainstream kids to bond and forge friendships doing all of the everyday things we take for granted such as going to the beach, the movies, a Kings hockey game,” Greenberg said. “The Friendship Foundation serves a cause that hits close to home for me, so I jumped at the opportunity to be part of starting such a wonderful organization.”
Three years into its history, however, the fledgling charity faced a crisis as the 2008 recession crippled the economy, causing donations to dry up. With the organization’s programs at risk of being shut down, Greenberg came up with the idea of staging a 3.5-mile community walk between the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach piers to raise much-needed funds.
And what an idea it turned out to be: The first-annual Skechers Pier to Pier Friendship Walk drew a modest 1,000 participants and generated $220,000; this year, the event attracted 15,000 walkers and broke a fundraising record, surpassing the $2 million mark. Over its 10-year history, the walk — now the largest of its kind in the U.S.— has raised an impressive $11 million.
“They say adversity leads to opportunity. Well, we had an adverse year, and it led to the creation of something truly incredible that brings a lot of love and happiness into the lives of so many kids and their families,” said Greenberg, who next week will be honored with the Two Ten Footwear Foundation’s T. Kenyon Holly Award for his philanthropic achievements.
Yossi Mintz, executive director of the Friendship Foundation, said his charity wouldn’t be where it is today without Greenberg’s generous and unwavering support. “Michael’s involvement has been vital to the heartbeat of our organization and its continuous growth. The funds raised by Skechers over the last 10 years have allowed us to expand from one Sunday program to offering 50 activities a month, eight summer camps and 40 Friendship [School] Clubs. The impact has been tremendous,” Mintz explained, noting that Greenberg also goes out of his way to personally spend time and connect with the kids who benefit from the foundation’s outreach.
Reflecting on the success of the Friendship Walk, Greenberg said he hopes his upcoming recognition by Two Ten inspires other industry members to seek ways to give back. “If you can imagine it, you can bring it to life,” he said. “We all have the ability to do good, to do more. We shouldn’t give until it feels good; we should give until it hurts.”
Philanthropy has been a central part of Zappos.com’s unique culture since the digital powerhouse launched nearly 20 years ago.
Through its broad-reaching “Zappos for Good” program, the company — which is receiving this year’s Social Impact award from Two Ten — participates in socially conscious initiatives that support its community in its hometown of Las Vegas and beyond, aiming to “spread happiness” along the way.
“We understand the value of service. Zappos has had great success, and in turn, we are responsible for helping others succeed no matter the challenges they face. It also helps keep us grounded — we always want to ensure that we are never solely focused on the transaction,” said Jeff Espersen, VP of merchandising.
The company’s diverse lineup of projects includes “Prom Closet,” where thousands of high school kids get free formalwear and other dance necessities. Zappos also hosts an inclusive Halloween experience for kids with disabilities and underprivileged families. One of the newest star-powered initiatives is “Shaq-a-Claus,” in which Shaquille O’Neal will hand-deliver donated toys to Boys & Girls Clubs in Las Vegas and Newark, N.J. “Don’t forget to focus on the experience. This will help show the world and your employees the authenticity of your work,” Espersen said when asked how other companies could develop their charitable drives.
Several of the brand’s efforts in that regard center directly on footwear. For its Remix Project, Zappos and Native Shoes have partnered to collect over 10,000 pairs of the vegan footwear and recycle them into materials that can be used for building community playgrounds. In addition, the retailer has collected more than 457,000 items for Nashville, Tenn.-based nonprofit Soles4Souls.
In 2019, Zappos plans to launch an initiative in support of a new school every month. The e-tailer will stock each classroom with essential items such as jackets, food and school supplies. “We hope it helps create an even playing field for all kids and gives the kids an opportunity to choose the items they not only need but like,” said Espersen.
In addition to its full list of planned endeavors, Zappos.com steps in when unexpected events occur, such as last year’s shooting at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The company raised $2.7 million for victims and helped pay for funeral costs.
Katie Butler knows how to get people motivated. The Two Ten Footwear Foundation board member and co-chair of its Solicitations Committee is being presented with this year’s A.A. Bloom Award for her years of service to the foundation.
For nearly a decade, Butler has been committed to rallying the shoe industry in support of members and their families facing personal challenges.
“As co-chair of the solicitations committee [for the annual gala], it’s been rewarding to see the steadfast contributions from retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and individuals who get the mission and contribute big dollars each year while attracting new companies and individuals who hear the message and want to become new supporters,” said Butler, GM of Franco Sarto.
Butler has served in her role alongside Joe Ouaknine, chairman of Titan Industries. “She’s been a voice,” he said. “A couple of years ago, I passed the baton to her and Joel Oblonsky, CEO of Titan. Together, they brought it to another level.”
According to Butler, who recently joined Franco Sarto’s parent, Caleres, she was further energized knowing the company was a strong Two Ten supporter. “I was thrilled to see their commitment to the organization as strong as mine,” said Butler. “Two Ten has many professional programs and fundraising events that make it easy to participate and donate.”
Among Butler’s standout moments at Two Ten has been volunteering for Footwear Cares community projects. “It’s a chance to step out of our daily responsibilities to network and give back to our communities,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed WIFI events and socializing with the industry at the gala event.”
Fellow board member Carol Baiocchi said Butler’s can-do attitude has encouraged others to get involved. “Katie actively supports the tenets of Two Ten and consistently gives valuable input to reach decisions,” said Baiocchi. “Her optimism and drive has made her a valuable asset to the foundation and its future.”
Butler is banking on younger industry members to carry Two Ten forward. “The next generation is about giving back even more than our generation, so we’re excited to engage them,” she said.