Something new: sole food
It is an oft-repeated truth that shoes are made for walking; but for Lavina Tien, the brains behind new label Portovelo, they can also make people stop and think about what it might be like to walk in those of others.
The former business consultant's travels to underprivileged parts of the world were what inspired her to start a shoe business with a charitable slant - Tien donates money from sales to buy meals for children cared for by the charity Flourishing Future, in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Each pair sold generates enough money for 15 meals. Sales at a pilot stall in Quarry Bay this month totalled 82 pairs while 140 more were sold at the brand's launch, translating to a combined 3,330 meals. Tien's first target is to reach 100,000 meals.
"I've done a lot of volunteer trips to Africa, China, Mongolia and Nepal," she says. "I saw hunger, disease and poverty. And I couldn't do anything except donate money, which is a pretty non-sustainable solution."
Drawing inspiration from the flourishing social-enterprise sector in the United States, Tien - the third daughter of businessman and politician Michael Tien Puk-sun - lit upon another idea.
"I've always travelled," she says. "But I can never find comfortable [travel] shoes. Ballet shoes are not good for walking [but] I'm very lazy so I don't like lace-ups. So I decided to design my own. They are lightweight and slim, comfortable and casual.
Of her decision to focus on Mongolia, she adds: "I've been doing mission trips there for two years with my church … And I've seen the kids. They eat one or two meals every three days. There's a lot of poverty and injustice.
"Food prices fluctuate. The donation from our sales therefore is not a set amount but whatever can buy 15 meals."
The shoes - available in red, blue, grey and white - are made on the mainland from soft, flexible canvas and are easy to carry and pack. Tien has visited the factory to make sure the workers receive fair pay and work in decent conditions, "otherwise it would mess up the whole concept".
Portovelo shoes, which cost HK$395 a pair, are available at G2000 in Central, Kapok in Wan Chai, Solidays in Wan Chai and Stanley, and through portovelo.com