People Matters

Diverge is a new-generation footwear company. It prioritises online sales and stands out due to its bespoke, made-to-measure footwear. But it is outside the business field, in the fight against poverty and hardship, that it is making a difference.

In the 21st century, and with so many challenges to overcome as a society, “brands have an obligation to actively contribute, defining ways to impact the community and context in which they operate. At Diverge, we aim to empower the individual through a pair of trainers and to promote causes and demographics at risk of social exclusion and poverty”, adds João Esteves.

The head of Diverge adds that the brand’s main project is Imagine, “an innovative social impact programme for young people that increases employability skills and promotes social inclusion”. Broadly speaking, Imagine “starts with an intensive training programme that addresses various themes relating to communication, marketing and entrepreneurship, in order to increase skills and invite each participant to think of themselves as a brand”. But this is only the beginning of a long-term relationship with each participant, as “each one subsequently has the opportunity to make themselves known to the world through the trainers they create at Diverge, which are launched on the brand’s website”, thus providing young people from underprivileged backgrounds additional financial income and the tools that allow them to have equal opportunities.

An analysis of current society leads to some tough conclusions, in João Esteves’ opinion. “For the first time in many decades, the implicit social contract in our society — the one that says that each generation will have a better life than the previous one — has been broken. This generation of young people (between the ages of 16 and 24) faces a very particular set of challenges that have been aggravated by the pandemic and now by the economic crisis”. Generally speaking, it is estimated that 1 in 4 young people in the European Union is at risk. “Although this is a problem with many causes, it is certain that part of the solution lies in providing these young people with employability skills in an innovative and engaging way, so that they can aspire to engage in more ambitious and structured life projects”. As trainers are such a valued product among this demographic, “Diverge uses them as an instrument of transformation for these young people, through an innovative programme — Imagine — that combines training with the creation of micro-businesses”.

The brand also promotes collaborations with institutions and initiatives that promote affirmation and equality. Among the many projects Diverge has supported, Manicómio, “an art studio that employs and supports artists with mental health challenges, allowing them to dedicate themselves to their art in a dignified way”, stands out. One of these collaborations involved the artist Bráulio, who wrote: “I’m not obsessive, I just like birds” on a model of trainers, with the aim of promoting the project in a trendy, urban context.

The community’s reaction was quick. At community level, “Diverge has already been distinguished with the Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Initiative label and has received several requests from various quarters to carry out more programmes with young people”. The company’s aim is to reach 1,300 young people by 2026 in mainland Portugal. From a business point of view, the results have been equally encouraging. “As far as Imagine is concerned, the trainers created by young people have already been marketed in more than 35 countries and have raised significant funds for the creators (more than €500 per young person), demonstrating the customers’ appetite for trainers with purpose and impact.” Similarly, the trainers made in collaboration with Manicómio were well received by the community and helped to promote the work of the guest artist, Bráulio.

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