Making a go from a flop

We have repeatedly called for a more direct and dependable solution to economic malaise: growing our own. While less flashy and given to much smaller starts, it accords well with the entrepreneurial spirit that makes America the nation it is.

A recent report by the BBC documents the trials of one such entrepreneur, a former U. S. Army Ranger, Matthew Griffin. While serving in Afghanistan Griffin had a brainstorm after visiting a shoe manufacturing plant outside of Kabul. The factory made combat boots, but Griffin recognized that the plant’s capacity could apply equally well to another popular model of footwear — flip flops.

“So I thought to myself, ‘Why not start a business making flip-flops in Kabul which we can then sell in the U. S. and around the world?’ That was back in 2009. It is fair to say that the business has faced a few hurdles since then,” Griffin told the BBC.

The main hurdles have been three failed attempts in the intervening years to contract out the manufacturing of the flip-flops to existing shoe factories in Kabul. Griffin’s difficulties with Afghan factories have forced a bit of creative thinking on his part. At one point he had to outsource to South America. He brought production back to the U. S. He even started making the flip flops in his garage.

While in his garage, he was forced to confront a number of issues. The first of which was the all import question of ‘How do you make flip flops?’

His answer, “We Googled it.”

Once that hurdle was cleared, he was able to focus on other aspects of the process. This led him to an innovation that will permit the return of the process to Afghanistan. Cramped for space, as one might be inside a typical garage, he was forced to think about the most spatially economical way to complete the process. What resulted is a flip flop factory that fits inside a disused shipping container.

While Griffin and his partners secure the funding for the more mobile version of his factory, they have developed other product lines. Employing Afghan women, they now make scarves and sarongs, both of which are very popular among women in Afghanistan.

Griffin told the BBC if taking the mobile flip-flop factory to Afghanistan is successful, he hopes the concept can “be extended to other former combat zones, to help provide employment and boost their economies.”

He also observed, “The business has faced some challenges along the way, that’s for sure, but being in the Army Rangers was good training - you have to think your way out of a problem in high-stress conditions and a very short timeframe.”

Therein lies the lesson for Pine Bluff. If one ambitious and innovative guy can develop a commercially viable micro-factory for production in a war-ravaged and struggling city, what’s preventing people here in Pine Bluff from doing something similar? We have electricity, potable water, good transportation, communication and supply lines. In short, we have everything we need.

As we assail the issues that dog our community, the paucity of home-grown industry ought to be right at the top of the list. The sooner we become self-reliant and quit waiting for outsiders to rescue us, the sooner we’ll be all we can be.