Shea and Raan, founders of ApolisFor my brother Raan and I, travel has always been a way of life. Our father maintained an unwavering belief that “real education comes from seeing the world,” and we were fortunate to journey with him and our mother from the earliest days of our lives, traveling from Central America to Southeast Asia to Europe. While some of our experiences were more jarring then others, an element of discomfort or adjustment was always incorporated as a reminder to appreciate our comparatively sheltered life back in the United States. Moreover, we were taught to appreciate the knowledge and expertise of those living in the places we ventured to, learning that no one understands the environment, the resources and the culture better than the locals themselves.

“…Raan and I sought not only to travel but to experience the places we visited. For us, this meant forging lasting, meaningful relationships with individuals and building ties with local communities and organizations.”

Through this lens, as we grew older and began to travel independently, Raan and I sought not only to travel but to experience the places we visited. For us, this meant forging lasting, meaningful relationships with individuals and building ties with local communities and organizations. At first, this happened organically, inspired simply by the fact that we wanted to get to know the people we met and places we visited intimately. Over time, however, these interactions – though still organic – became more intentional. In fact, they became the foundation for what is now our socially-motivated lifestyle brand, Apolis (a-pó-lis). Translated, Apolis means global citizen.

Raan and I founded Apolis in 2004 with the goal of empowering communities around the world – communities we have spent time in; communities we know well. We work hand-in-hand with the cooperatives we visit, co-designing all products with our partners and ethically sourcing only those materials that are identified by each community as being their core competency within textile and garment manufacturing. Then, through Apolis, we share their artisanship, exposing their craft to a wider audience in order to provide stronger support for the industries in developing markets. This model, called “advocacy through industry” is a revolutionary way to harness the power of business to create social change. It is founded on the simple idea that people can live better lives when they are given equal access to the global marketplace.

“…it is stories such as this one that keep us energized and engaged in our “advocacy through industry” work.”

Since founding the company 9 years ago, we can proudly say that we have traveled to every continent, except Antarctica. Most recently, we ventured to the Middle East where we embarked on a cross-border collaboration that most would deem impossible: an Israeli leather craftsman, Shlomy Azolay, working with a Palestinian leather manufacturer, Mohammad Altzatari, to craft Apolis’ leather co-op sandal.

The short film, above, chronicles the development of Shlomy and Muhammad’s relationship over the past five years. What began as a series of online communications between the two men eventually led to a face-to-face meeting; this was a great feat, despite the fact that the two worked only 50 miles apart from one another. Over time, Shlomy and Muhammad’s work together evolved and they now share a close business partnership that is efficient, cooperative and productive.

Raan, our team and I were fortunate to be able to participate in and document Shlomy and Muhammad’s work, and it reminded us that regardless of differences in currency, language, or plug outlet, all people share a similar set of simple human desires: to laugh, to learn, and to be able to provide for their families. The details behind this beautiful global citizen story – one where a relationship built on common interests continues to defy deep-seeded cultural conflict – can certainly educate and inspire others to follow a similar path. We continue to keep it in mind as we build our business and continue our travels; arguably, it is stories such as this one that keep us energized and engaged in our “advocacy through industry” work.

Click here to learn more about Apolis and check out their products.

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Shea Parton
In 2004, brothers Raan and Shea Parton founded Apolis with a simple idea that business can create social change. Their travels abroad immersed them in personal stories of struggle and survival and inspired them to create a business model that bridges commerce and economic development. Along with their commitment to global advocacy, they also understand the importance of sourcing and manufacturing locally. Whether it means partnering with manufacturers in Uganda, Peru, Bangladesh, or around the corner in Los Angeles, the Partons have used their model of “advocacy through industry” to empower people to determine their own future.