By Caroline McKenzie
September 18, 2017
Credit: Robbie Caponetto; Hair and Makeup: Ashley Michels

Take a good look at Deux Mains footwear, and you would never suspect the luxurious sandals are in fact crafted from leather and recycled rubber tires. The visionary behind that industrious design concept is Julie Colombino of Orlando, Florida. She is a Florida disaster-recovery volunteer turned fashion entrepreneur. In 2010, Colombino was on the ground in Haiti just days after the devastating earthquake and wanted to do something to make a long-term impact. "There was black smoke everywhere from the burning of tires," she says. "I remembered I had once seen men crafting shoes from rubber tires in Africa and thought, ‘Why can't we do that here?'" Shortly after, she founded the nonprofit REBUILD (an acronym that stands for Restoring Environments by Utilizing Innovative Local Development) and helped dozens of Haitian women whose places of business had been destroyed get back to work.

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The stylish sandals began to catch the eye of fashion pros, including Colombino's longtime friend Kenneth Cole. Fun pops of color, ultimate comfort design, and stylish options for women and men made Deux Mains stand out in the crowd. As the popularity of the sandals surged, Colombino felt it was time to incorporate the work center into a full-fledged business. Now, the company offers more than just sandals, with totes, jewelry, and clutches joining its line-up of functional fashion.

Deux Mains (which means "two hands" in French, a nod to the Haitian women rebuilding their lives on their own accord) now employs dozens of local workers who make fare wages and are able to support themselves and their extended families. A portion of all proceeds goes to rebuilding the many still-recovering towns throughout Haiti that still have long roads ahead. "We're making beautiful products and fighting poverty simultaneously," she says. "I can't think of anything more fashionable."