So I have been dying over Gideon shoes since the very man himself, Rupert Noffs sent me a little tweet asking us to come down to the opening of the Bondi Store. I think I literally died when I saw the shoes for the first time – sorry to gush but take a look at them at this link, and if it doesn’t make you fall to the floor and buy a pair, you need help. I was inspired by the materials (cane toad and kangaroo leather – whuh!?) as well as the amazing colours – the hottest gold and silver shoes evah and I’ve heard the next offering is a canvas range which will seriously, knock my thongs off during summer. Doing further research I found out so much about the brand that you wouldn’t normally expect. Discovering that they were anti-sweatshop and all proceeds went to their very own charity, Ihad to find out more, so I had a little chat with co-owner Rupert Noffs who run’s Gideon shoes with his brother Matt Noffs.
Q: What was Ted Noffs’ motivation for setting up the Noffs foundation? Of all things to do in life, why found so many charities? It’s a fantastic cause, but there must have been something to inspire your father to do so?
Ted was my grandfather – he was a revolutionist. A heretic. In the 60’s there was nothing to help the desolate youth of Australia. There were no counsellors or places where people could go and talk to someone if they had any typeof mental illness, substance abuse or homelessness issues. Here are some of the things Ted did:1963: Established, and first president of, the first ever Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs.
1964: Opened the Wayside Chapel with its drop-in coffee shop, where all were welcomed, regardless of beliefs, political affiliations, age, social status…
1966: Led Protests in Sydney against French nuclear testing on Mururoa Atoll.
1967: Established Australia’s first Drug Referral Centre, where people with drug problems could seek help, with immunity from prosecution.
1968: Introduced concept of the Family of Man (now known as the Family of Humanity) as a way of transcending religious differences.
1969: Opened Australia’s first 24-hour Crisis Centre, where people could call in personally, rather than just receive telephone counselling.
1970: Initiated Breakfast Program, with mobile unit, for Aboriginal children in Redfern, Sydney.
1976: Instituted the Naming Celebration, as an alternative to the traditional Christening.
1979: Opened the first Life Education Centre.He was a Reverend and married over thirty thousand couples in parks and on beaches – it was the norm to do this in churches. No one ever got married in a park… He would hold mass christenings. He was accused of heresy three times (never convicted) because he went against what the church was about. Ted believed we all had God within ourselves. Our spirits together could change the world. He believed in something he used to call The Family of Humanity:I am a Catholic, I am a Protestant,
I am a Jew, I am a Muslim,
I am a Sikh, I am a Buddhist,
I am a Hindu, because
I am a HUMAN BEING and no-one in this world is a stranger to me.Q: What’s the story behind Matt and Rupert. Where did you guys come from, what did you do?
We came jumping out of an egg in Tokyo – just like Monkey Magic. Matt popped out 3 years before me. We used to fly around on clouds… Haha Actually, Matt and I were obsessed with Monkey Magic when we were kids. We’ve always been obsessed with the absurd. People think we’re odd. Especially when we’re together. I studied at drama school (NIDA) and performed with Mel Gibson on stage. I dreamt of going to Hollywood. Then i got into fashion and worked at one of the best PR agencies in Sydney when I was 21. Matt owned his own marketing company and travelled the world making viral films for big corporates.
Q: Tell me about the Street University. Why was it set up and what was the goal when founding it? Is it a school, a retreat?
My brother and his wife Naomi set it up 3 years ago. Essentially, it’s Australia’s largest drop-in youth centre. It’s currently seeing over 13,000 kids a year. It’s more than just your average drop-in centre. It has a big focus on music and dance therapy with a fully equipped music studio, classrooms, full size basketball court.Hip-hop group, Enemy Public, cut the ribbon 3 years ago and said it’s “A work of art!”If you go there on any given day, you’ll see kids aged 7 to 27 getting free education in the classrooms, practicing their dance routines, praying the the prayer room, recording an album… Everything!!! I always walk in a get a little teary. It’s what the Wayside Chapel used to be.Q: How has it been successful in providing something other than a bandaid approach to community work?
Well judging by the stats it’s working. 13,000 kids a year is a huge deal for South West Sydney. Most people turn a blind eye to these kids. Street University is unlike anything. Kids gain access to classrooms where volunteers run workshops in anything from basketball to biology.
We have amazing support from the local community. Mounties is a huge supporter of Street Uni. The local business also get actively involved. There is a café run by the kids which is another social enterprise.The Street University works because – # 1 it’s in a place where it’s most needed. These kids out there have NOTHING but have everything to give. I’ve seen kids who have been there since day one gain free education and support and end up leaving to further their studies.
Q: Out of all things, why design shoes?
Why not? Everyone wears them? We NEED to wear them. Matt and I want to change people’s minds – not only consumers minds but the fashion industry in general. We think everyone should follow our lead and buy things that are not made by forced child labour. Check the label before you buy. Don’t only check the price – check where it’s made.Q: Charities are a risky venture on their own and setting up a new shoe label is another challenge in itself. What’s the pressure been like managing Gideon shoes when you know that it’s success will attribute to how well the Street University does?
I think both Matt and I have heard the word “NO” so many times in our lives… It now drives us. Charity has been engraved in our body’s – our hearts – that’s a given. The shoe label, however, is another challenge – yes – but we’re in the 21st Century and people don’t want to be harassed by someone from a call centre asking you to donate money to a charity. People don’t want to be preached to either. Shoes are simple. Buy a pair and 100% goes back to building free education for kids. Easy. The kids get something. You get something.Matt and I will speak everyday about what we’re doing. No else has done anything like this. Sometimes Matt gets so tired he’ll say… “Let’s just forget about this and raise money for Street Uni another way!” I always remind him of that scene in Wizard of Oz where The Wicked Witch plants poppies in the fields just before the Emerald City – it makes Dorothy, Toto and The Lion fall asleep…I keep reminding him of the Emerald City and how there are people that will try and stop us along the way. We just have to block our ears and RUN for it!!!!!I know that’s such a gay analogy. But hey, I’m gay. Gays rule the world.Q: Who came up with the idea with cane toad and using pests as a shoe material?
When we met with our manufacturer in Sydney, he showed us all the amazing materials we could use. Cane toad was one of them!! That was a YES – of course.Q: “We believe that countries such as China, India and Africa are used as slave nations for the developing world.” That’s a pretty big statement. Tell me about what happened when you went overseas to outsource the manufacture of Gideon.
When we visited China and Vietnam at the beginning of 2010 – we were shocked and depressed. Most of the factories were not only extremely hot with no air-con – no one had masks or gloves on. I have footage on my phone. I saw a young girl sitting next to her mum. In pajamas… making these tacky, cheap shoes that will probably sell for $20 in K-Mart Australia. Some dude will buy them cos they’re really cheap. Meanwhile, he hasn’t thought about who’s made them. What a horrible life they’re living. Most of these “sweatshops” have living quarters about 20 steps away. So, their day roughly goes like this: wake at 4am, walk to the factory, work for 16 hours in crappy conditions, walk home. Repeat. Some of the workers were sleeping on stacked cardboard boxes. It was really sad. There was NO WAY Gideon Shoes were going to be made in those conditions.Unlike another major shoe company that claims to be giving a pair of shoes to a kid in Africa every-time you buy a pair – they are still made in China. Doesn’t make sense.Q: What’s the response been like to a shoe brand with such a strong moral backbone?
You love us!!!!! You really love us!!!!! Haha…