Sun, Sep 23, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Flip-flops with bullet casings to help Afghans

By Miriam Arghandiwal  /  Reuters, KABUL

Employees work at a footwear factory in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 8. A former US veteran hopes the factory he has set up in Kabul to make footwear will help bring a better life to people in Afghanistan.

Photo: Reuters

Flip-flops with AK-47 bullet primers may seem an unusual fashion choice for US beach-goers, but one US special forces veteran hopes the factory he has set up in Kabul to make the footwear will help bring a better life to people in Afghanistan.

Former Special Forces serviceman Matthew Griffins says that the unlikely decision to launch the range of beach shoes was a “light bulb” moment inspired in 2010 by watching a factory worker punch holes into a leather strap used to make army boots.

Griffin was back in Afghanistan, on one of many trips to the nation he fell in love with while fighting there from 2003 to 2006, seeking for a way to help a people he remembered as unusually generous.

“I just remember how giving the people in Afghanistan were. We’d go up in the mountains and we’d stay in a village and they literally feed us until they were out of food,” Griffin said.

“It was the first part of December and they had the rest of winter to live on the food that they had essentially fed us,” he said.

With a view to promoting local employment, he and another US veteran, with backing from a Seattle-based business partner, set up a factory in Kabul to make flip-flops.

Their line of “Combat Flip Flops,” which sell from US$65 to US$75, gives buyers the choice of a range of designs that will remind their owners of lands far from sunny US beaches and towns.

“Rather than another product to sell that looks good or feels good or is the new fashion, there’s a product with a story to be told and people want to be part of that story,” Combat Flip Flops president Andrew Sewrey said.

The designs include AK-47 rifle bullet casings, Navy SEAL logos and even Afghan poppies, a plant grown widely in Afghanistan and used to make illegal drugs like heroin.

“[The AK-47] is the weapon of choice for the military and what not, so we put a AK-47 bullet primer around the strap,” Sewrey said, standing beside an Afghan worker making prototypes of the footwear.

So far, their main customers are military families, but they hope the business will appeal to a wider audience and provide long-term employment for Afghans who have come to depend on opportunities linked to the more than decade-long war.

“We got into this and promised Afghans a better life,” Griffin said. “We’ve invested billions of tax dollars and lost some of the best American leaders we have to offer and it’d be a shame if it were [all for] nothing.”

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