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RIC Alum’s Business Built on Kindness

Mike Conforti and his daughter Alexandra, who inspired his giving-back business model.

Mike Conforti and his daughter Alexandra, who inspired his giving-back business model.

 

When’s the last time someone offered you $10 for your old running shoes?

That’s the tagline Michael Conforti ‘90 offers on kindrunner.com, a business he started last June and has designed as a socially responsible ecommerce site for runners.

For each pair of shoes a customer purchases on kindrunner.com, they are invited to send back one used pair of shoes and in return receive $10 in “kindness cash.” Conforti then sends those shoes to two nonprofit partner organizations working to fight poverty.

Conforti, who owns three Sneaker Factory Running Center stores in New Jersey, said the idea came to him when his 18-year-old daughter Alexandra sarcastically chastised him for throwing a water bottle cap into a recycling bin.

“She said, in only the way teenage girls can, ‘Dad, don’t you know most caps are not recyclable?’” Conforti said. “It was at that time I came up with Kindrunner as a way to appeal to more ecological savvy generations that understand better than any generation before them what it will take to sustain life on our planet.”

The objective, he said, is to keep non-biodegradable running shoes out of landfills while providing shoes to those who cannot afford them across the globe.

About 80 percent of shoes Conforti gets back go to Soles4Souls, which sells used shoes to micro-enterprise organizations that help support small businesses in countries including Haiti. The other 20 percent of his shoes go to MORE Foundation Group, a Delaware-based company that funds its farming training programs in West Africa entirely through used shoe sales.

“We’re taking an old product, reclaiming and repurposing it,” Conforti said. “We’re reducing our carbon footprint. We’re giving up profit to help people.”

Customers can use the $10 credit per shoe purchase for any kindrunner.com products. Conforti said avid runners sometimes buy two to three pair per month, so the potential for reward credit – and for helping others – is high.

Conforti graduated from RIC with a bachelor’s in political science and was recruited straight out of college into a management-training program that led him to a 14-year career in human resources.

He started running in 2003 to develop a healthy lifestyle and ran his first Ironman Triathlon in 2008.  In 2005 he bought his first sneaker store.

“I wanted to run my own business. I considered many different opportunities and had zero background in retail management,” Conforti said. “The stores have done well. I was able to use that flow to create kindrunner.com.”

He said his time at RIC prepared him well to delve into business management and entrepreneurship.

“I went to school with people who weren’t here just to go to school. They inspired me because they were highly motivated,” he said. “They had well-rounded backgrounds and let me know you don’t have to just work for someone else.”