These Two Women Launched A Vending Machine Of Flats


At the Harborplace Mall in Baltimore nestled next to Starbucks, there's a vending machine that doesn't sell salty snacks as a quick-fix to hunger, but instead displays comfortable shoes for the woman on the go who needs a break from the pain that often accommodates a pricey pair of heels.

The vending machine is called Sole Savers, and it's the brainchild of 33-year-old business owner Melodie Narain.

Like many entrepreneurs, it started with a problem. When Melodie slipped on a pair of heels just two months after giving birth, she quickly discovered that she could no longer wear her stylish pumps for more than a few hours.

A conversation with her mom and business partner, Teresa, who also could no longer wear heels due to knee surgeries, soon turned into an idea of creating affordable shoes that any woman with aching feet could conveniently purchase on-the-go.

But creating a vending machine to push out a rollable pair of flats was no easy feat. In fact, when Melodie first came up with the concept for Sole Savers, she didn't intend for her mother to be her business partner. "Initially when I started coming up with the concept, I didn't want to share it with my family yet because I was like they're going to say that I'm just bringing another business idea to them. So I said okay, I'm going to fully develop this and I'm going to share it with some of my investor friends that have high net worth."

Utilizing business relationships from previously working with CEOs and executives, Melodie brought her idea to a friend and investor. He was sold, but when the duo presented the idea to his wife they ran into a roadblock. “She didn't really want him working in a business partnership with a female, so she rejected the concept," says Melodie. “And who am I to argue with the wife?"

The quest for a perfect partnership didn't end there. She brought the idea back to her mom, who jumped at the opportunity to also bring a philanthropic element to the business through the mission of helping others and donating to non-profits organizations.

With her background in fashion marketing and her business acumen, Melodie was able to wear two hats as both creator and strategist. She first researched all of her competitors to determine if there was room in the market for what she was offering, even going as far to reach out to let them know that she was starting the business not just for profit, but in hopes to help others such as her two-year-old niece Teyana who was born with Congenital Heart Disease, by partnering with non-profit organizations.

She also heavily researched her product to find the right kind of shoes and material that would be convenient and compact enough to fit into a pocketbook, and read everything she could find on vending machines while looking for the best places to launch her product. With vending machines averaging a cost of $10,000 to $25,000 depending on the level of enhancements from touch screen features to digital ads, it was important for the Maryland native to make sure that her business plan was foolproof.

“A lot of times when people want to start companies they have this idea but they don't do any kind of research, and then they launch something and it completely bombs because they don't do the market research," Melodie says. “The times that we live in everything is so accessible to us, so a person that doesn't do their research, they're just not making a smart decision."

Despite all of her legwork, they still ran into some challenges. When the first machine arrived it wasn't configured properly and instead of buyer's being able to see the shoe through a transparent container, they had to hope that they selected the right color numerically on the touch screen, making it more confusing for her customers. They also realized that the shoes weren't thick enough to comfortably walk on rockier terrain, and had to create a second prototype with a thicker sole to provide the right amount of comfort and cushion.

After a year of planning and designing the product, Melodie and Theresa launched Sole Savers this past September. They placed the first machine in a nightclub, logically thinking that the hundreds of women ready to kick off their shoes after dancing the night away would do well for business, but Melodie, who wanted her customer's to not just buy the product, but to also connect with it, felt like the club scene didn't fit their target customer. So they moved the machine to the Gallery at Harborplace in Baltimore—an area with heavy foot traffic and tourism. Within the first day Melodie had already sold eight pairs of flats, which retail at $19.95 a pair. Though the website generates most of their revenue, she's hoping to expand into bigger markets and into convention centers in the near future.

Working her full-time job in real estate while running a business on the side and being a mother to her two-year-old son leaves little time for self indulgence, but Melodie credits her prayer life and having help from the father of her child to her being able to get through the days where she's burning the midnight oil. Her mother, who also still works full-time with the government, takes care of the philanthropic aspects of the business, focusing on smaller non-profit organizations with less notoriety. For the entrepreneurs, Sole Savers is just as much about saving souls as well as soles.

“We try to find charities that people don't really know about because while Sole Savers is in the infancy stage now, I see it being such a major storm in households, convention centers, conference centers and churches, and I'd like for these other charities on a mission to really help grow with our business."

Recently, Sole Savers launched their spring collection, which includes the red “Teyana" flat named in honor of her niece who has had two open-heart surgeries before the age of two. “When we talked about Sole Savers in the brainstorming stages, we were talking about when Teyana becomes an adult that we will have an avenue that will provide for a very strong quality of life for her."

The remaining shoes were designed to fit the woman who may not be up on the latest trends, but they always put their best foot forward in all areas of their life.

“A stylish woman isn't always trendy. It's a certain level of class and elegance that a woman has and I think that's what's important for me in branding sole savers. It's very stylish; it's very current, but it's not trendy."

While it may not be about the clothes, it's certainly about the mission of doing something that's rooted in love and passion. For Melodie and Teresa it starts with saving soles, one foot at a time.

To find out more about Sole Savers and how to grab you a pair of comfortable flats, head over to SoleSavers.co.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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