Issaquah-based footwear, apparel, and accessory maker Combat Flip Flops is among 20 small businesses YouTube has chosen to showcase popular summer gifts as part of the first YouTube Small Business Day, which is occurring in conjunction with Google’s second annual International Small Business Week.
YouTube, with more than 2 billion users, is part of Google Services.
“It’s like winning the lottery,” Combat Flip Flops co-founder and CEO Matthew “Griff” Griffin said of being selected to appear on the YouTube shopping livestream Thursday, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Viewers can purchase items directly from the livestream via links to the businesses.
“It really means a lot to us because we are a small family-owned business,” Griffin said of the five-person company that includes his brother-in-law, a close friend whom he calls a brother-in-arms, and a mother-son combination. “To be highlighted as a company nationally and globally on behalf of YouTube for small businesses, we’re really honored.”
Griffin served as an Army Ranger in four Iraq and Afghanistan combat tours and founded the business in 2012 with fellow Ranger Donald Lee, and Andy Sewrey. The company employs people in Afghanistan, Laos, and Colombia, providing jobs for people affected by conflict, and donating money to causes that include educating Afghan women and removing unexploded ordinance in Laos, part of what the company refers to as “waging war with business, not bullets.”
Combat Flip Flops wants to stop the cycle of violence and human suffering around the world, according to its “calling” on its website, saying it harnessed that compassion to create a new path forward: “a way to create jobs, fund women’s education, and improve people’s lives.”
Griffin said the company has cleared more than 20,000 square meters of land mines so far and put more than 800 girls in school.
“We’ve got a goal of 100,000 girls in school and we’re not going to stop until we get it,” he said. “And then once we get that, we’re probably going to keep going.”
Among the company’s many products, its scarves, or shemaghs, are made in Afghanistan of hand-spun cashmere. Its military grade flip flops are made in Columbia, and its jewelry is made in Laos from recycled land mines left over from the Vietnam War. Its printed T-shirts, including those made with the message, “Be A Better Human,” are made in the United States.
For each shemagh sold, Combat Flip Flops donates money to put an Afghan girl in secondary school for a day, its website says of the partnership with Boumi Manufacturing and Aid Afghanistan for Education, which was founded by Hassina Sherjan. In Laos, the company supports Mines Advisory Group, which clears land mines and other unexploded ordinance left over from the Vietnam War.
Combat Flip Flops is no stranger to the big stage. It was featured on Shark Tank in 2016 and one of the sharks, Mark Cuban, remains a 10 percent equity partner in the company, according to Griffin.
“It’s nice to have a heavy hitter on the team,” Griffin said.
The company has annual revenue of about $1.5 million to $2 million.
Asked about the surge of business that could emerge from the YouTube event, Griffin said, “The only thing that really matters to us is one; if we just get one more.”
Explaining, he said, “If we convince one person that buying products from a small business and putting people to work in a war zone and putting little girls to school is a good thing, it’ll be worth it, because one little girl will go to school for a day. We just look at everything in ones, just one more.”
YouTube is a good place for the company to share its story, Griffin said.
“We’re really ramping up our YouTube here over the next couple months, so people are going to see how we work and what we do, how we actually make it happen,” he said.