28/01/2011 - 00:00

Lofty goals, boots on the ground

28/01/2011 - 00:00

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TOUGH workmen and purple boots may not seem the most comfortable fit, but for Steel Blue and Breast Cancer Care WA what started as a gimmick to raise a modest sum has turned into a successful awareness and cancer support campaign.

TOUGH workmen and purple boots may not seem the most comfortable fit, but for Steel Blue and Breast Cancer Care WA what started as a gimmick to raise a modest sum has turned into a successful awareness and cancer support campaign.

The Purple Boot Brigade has raised $450,000 since the first 20,000 of its plum work boots came off the production line and into Steel Blue distributors’ storerooms.

The relationship works well for the two organisations, one a multi-million dollar success story producing work boots for international distribution, the other a community sector organisation raising awareness of breast cancer and providing support to sufferers and their families.

Steel Blue chief executive Gary Johnson told WA Business News the idea came from a conversation between some of Steel Blue’s founders and well-known philanthropist Ros Worthington, back in 2007.

“Prior to that, in 2003, when Steel Blue won the Telstra Australian Small Business of the Year award, the then co-owners decided to put the prize money, which was $17,000, into a foundation,” Mr Johnson said.

“From 2003 to 2007 when this started up, the board was looking for a way to make a difference with the foundation.”

It was somewhat serendipitous that one of Steel Blue’s directors met Ms Worthington at the time. She helped develop the concept of selling purple boots and starting the online ‘social network’ for people with breast cancer and their families, accessible anywhere in the world.

“Ros was very passionate about the cause and quickly convinced some of our directors and the business owners at the time this was the way to go,” Mr Johnson said.

“It was the creative genius of one of our co-founding directors, Peter Nicholls, and Ros Worthington that drove this whole purple idea. It has taken off.”

While acknowledging the quirky nature of the Purple Boot Brigade, Mr Johnson believes the links between the typecast blokey working man and the cancer cause aren’t as incongruous as they initially appear.

“At first thought you think, steel boots are a male-dominated industry, but when you think about it, all of those have got a sister or a wife or a mother and many of those have been affected by breast cancer in many ways,” he said.

“Purple is not a colour you would normally associate with big bulky men on work sites, construction sites and mine sites, but we have been amazed at how people have got behind it.”

Mr Johnson said the attention-grabbing nature of the product – with $20 of the sale price going to Breast Cancer Care WA (formerly known as the Breast Cancer Foundation) – has helped it to become the vehicle for raising awareness of the support network that is online.

“The whole purple boot thing was about education and helping people. We wanted to get behind something that would help people straight away and we wanted it to be about communication,” he said.

The online support network is growing, with Purple Boot Brigade having recently formed a partnership with Edith Cowan University to develop a new section of the site where people will be able to access professional health advice from a dedicated health care worker.

Mr Johnson said Steel Blue had great plans for broadening the company’s support of Breast Cancer Care WA and aims to lift the fundraising bar to $1 million. And given the company started out with a goal of raising $100,000, Mr Johnson is confident the seven digit figure will be reached.

“We are starting to think now about the future and ways in which to make sure this continues. I don’t think a million dollars in total over the next three years is out of the question ... sometimes you have to have lofty ambitions,” he said.

 

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