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Who they are
In one of the poorest neighborhoods in the impoverished sprawl around Buenos Aires, something strange is growing: hope. Several years ago, six men and women started a cooperative business called Desde el Pie, or From the Foot. From these humble beginnings have sprung a source of work for some thirty people, mostly immigrants, and a second cooperative called Puporé. These businesses make shoes, and in the process, they've turned the international sweatshop model on its head.

For far too many shoe workers today, working conditions are little short of industrial slavery: 15 hour days and unpaid overtime are common, benefits and holidays are rare. And workers in this industry are usually treated like machines themselves: their every movement is planned and controlled. If you ask Thomas Friedman, he'll tell you that these sweatshop jobs are better than nothing - that they are the first step on the ladder of development.

At both Puporé and Desde el Pie, workers have jumped a few rungs. They hold assemblies every week to decide among themselves how to work, and they divide the fruits of their labor equitably. Their factories are full of freedom, laughter, and the feeling of family. With a sense of power in their working lives, their spirits are nurtured instead of crushed: this only increases their productivity.

In shops in North America and Europe, these boots and shoes, handmade with the leather from free-range cows, would cost three times as much - and they would be produced under sweatshop conditions. The workers of both Desde el Pie and Puporé, from their humble roots in an anonymous shanty town, have danced circles around the giants of the industry and accomplished something extraordinary: they have proven that the sweatshop economy is an unnecessary evil. By challenging the very assumptions of our system, they are proving that shoes can be made of a higher quality, at a lower price, and by people who work with dignity and joy.



History
As Argentina´s 2001 financial crisis drew near, those at the bottom were hit first and hardest. For people in marginal communities, whatever scarce and underpaid work they once had was now completely gone. To survive, they could only look to themselves. In the slum of Laferrere, a resourceful group formed an agency called Cooplabor, aimed at founding cooperatives to create jobs in the community.

Several years and a great deal of struggle later, the success of this approach is clear. Cooplabor can claim credit for helping not only Desde el Pie and Puporé, but also Diul, a construction cooperative, and Desde la Harina, a nascent sewing coop also working closely with The Working World.

It took years for these workers to find a place in the market, but the quality of their work boots has finally won them loyal buyers in factories across the country. Now they have designed a quality line of consumer footwear to help increase sales and expand their operations. Their goal in doing this, they say, is simply to create more decent jobs for the unemployed people in their neighborhood.



Project with The Working World
Desde el Pie is still based where it started: in the back of the house of one of its founders. Meanwhile, Puporé has worked for years right across the street. Both cooperatives continue making thousands of shoes a month. But despite all their ingenuity, the workers have finally grown too large for their work space. They now face bottlenecks in production and have no room to expand production or bring in new members.

Together with The Working World and La Base, Desde el Pie is now building a bigger factory where it can produce a wider range of footwear and improve efficiency. In helping Desde with this exciting new project, WW:La Base saw the chance to achieve many things simultaneously: increase employment, improve efficiency, and launch a profitable project that will pay for itself and improve the position of the coop. Puporé, for their part, has recently moved to a larger factory closer to the center of Buenos Aires. The Working World is helping them fill the larger capital needs that come with this big step up.

For just a few thousand dollars, The Working World and La Base are helping these cooperatives accomplish their dreams: building new factories, raising production levels, and helping these men and women lift themselves out of poverty.

        

Cooperative Products


Agnes Canvas Alpargata

Cobra Emerald Canvas Alpargata

Cobra Fuchsia Canvas Alpargata

Diva Leather Alpargata

Enchilada Canvas Alpargata

Esmerelda Canvas Alpargata

Herringbone Alpargatas

Mint Canvas Alpargata

Olive Alpargatas

Peltre Leather Alpargata

Plaid Alpargatas

Red Alpargatas

Stardust Leather Alpargata

The Otto, black

Raw Alpargatas

The Frances, black




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