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This shoe startup wants to spark conversations in a divided country

John Tawney, who spent 15 years at Nike and founded the Nike iD customization system, has struck out on his own. He’s launched Common Ground, a Portland-based shoe startup designed to facilitate conversations about difficult topics, including marriage equality, gun violence, and immigration

At first glance, Common Ground shoes appear covered in graphic patterns, but looking closer, each shoe takes a different position on a contentious issue. It’s meant to be a metaphor about how both feet need to work together to move forward, but it also gets people talking. So far, the shoes have been particularly popular among Gen Z, although customers of all ages have bought them.

Tawney says that the recent election has demonstrated exactly how divided this country is. The solution, he believes, is to be open to hearing the other side out.  “In the current political climate, I’m more committed to our mission than ever,” he tells Fast Company

ES