This neighborhood entrepreneur provides footwear for children in his homeland
He emigrated to the United States from Romania as a child, and for more than 10 years, Samuel Bistrian has traveled back to Eastern Europe during the summer months.
It wasn’t until the Lakewood resident visited Romania in the winter, however, that he recognized a basic need of many children in the country — proper footwear.
Bistrian says he saw a young girl in the freezing slush wearing only a pair of sandals. “Her ankles and feet were completely exposed to the elements,” he says.
He watched as many children walked to school in knee-deep snow with terribly worn shoes.
Last year, the 28-year-old decided to address this problem head-on. His solution was Roma Provisions, a hybrid company combining business with charity. The company designs and sells rain boots, and the company’s nonprofit arm, Roma for All, distributes boots to children living in poverty.
For every pair of Roma Boots sold, a new pair of boots — packaged with a coloring book and crayons in a bag that doubles as a backpack — will be given to a child living in the street.
Prior to launching Roma Provisions, Bistrian had retail experience working as a fur salesman NorthPark Center’s Neiman Marcus since 2004. While there, he had an opportunity to meet TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie. Blake explained that TOMS was focusing on Argentina and Ethiopia, and Bistrian saw a similar need for children living in cold climates in Eastern Europe.
“Providing proper footwear is just the first step to helping these children break out of the poverty cycle,” Bistrian says. “My broader plan is to empower these children by getting them back into the education system.”
He says many children don’t go to school. Instead, their parents send them out to beg on the streets.
“We have different connections throughout Romania,” Bistrian says. “So wherever we do a boot drop, we’ll be able to connect these kids with a local educational organization and say, ‘Hey we did this for these kids, but these kids need more than just a pair of rain boots. They need an education.’ ”
Roma Provisions takes its name from the Roma population of Central and Eastern Europe. Romania has the largest population of Romas, or gypsies. Many live on the streets, and Bistrian says about 80 percent of them are illiterate. The population is very persecuted, marginalized and discriminated against, he says.
Bistrian also chose the name “Roma” for his company because it is the word “amor” spelled backward. He speaks Spanish, and his wife is Columbian.
Since launching the company, Bistiran received a note from Mycoskie’s father thanking him for letting TOMS inspire him to help less fortunate children through Roma Provisions.
“It’s not a competition with Blake or TOMS. It’s more a complement to what he’s already doing,” Bistrian says.
Bistrian says customers are responding well — since its inception, the company has sold more than 500 boots.
Ditto Boutique in Hillside Village has carried Roma boots since December. Owner Jane DeNike says one of her clients is a friend of Bistrian, and he came to the store to tell her the company’s story.
“We were really glad that he chose us to carry his line in the Lakewood location,” DeNike says.
Even though it hasn’t been that rainy in Dallas, customers are buying the Roma boots, she says.
“We have a lot of people that really love the story about them,” DeNike says, adding that customers also love the boots’ colors and quality.
Roma Provisions has already donated twice as many boots as it has sold. Right around Christmas, after receiving his first shipment of rain boots, Bistrian distributed 1,000 pairs in Romania. Even though he hadn’t yet sold that many pairs, he knew the weather in Romania was already cold and that children needed the boots.
“The cause is greater to me than the business,” he says.
On Christmas Eve, Bistrian and his family loaded up a big van with rain boots and went from village to village distributing the boots to poor children.
“It was really an emotional time for me to go there and give them these gifts and see them so excited because they’ve never received a new gift life this,” he says.
Bistrian says this week in Romania was one of the most memorable weeks of his life.
“[The children’s] socks were damp with water and slush, and their feet were cold. To put a dry pair of rain boots on their feet and [see] their faces light up with excitement and gratitude, I was like, ‘Wow this is what I was created to do.’ I’m living my dream here.”
Roma Provisions founder Samuel Bistrian describes the boots as a blend between a Burberry and a Hunter boot. The company’s adult knee-high rain boots retail for $78, and the children’s calf-high boots retail for $38. The boots are sold in several Dallas locations, including Ditto Boutique in Hillside Village, Jackson’s Home & Garden on Lemmon, and The Blue Jeans Bar in Snider Plaza. Visit romaprovisions.com for more information.
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