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How ALDO Began Its Decades-Long Fight Against HIV/AIDS

ALDO is best known for keeping the feet of the fashion-forward clad in this season’s most stylish shoes and accessories, but for decades the Canadian company has been giving the world more than just trendy footwear.

Perhaps less prominently, but certainly no less powerfully, ALDO — founded on values of love, respect, and integrity — has been devoted to being a force for change.

In the mid-80s, about a decade after Aldo Bensadoun founded ALDO in Montreal, Canada, Bensadoun was searching for a way to use his company’s reach to be a positive influence in the world and get involved in philanthropy. ALDO Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Dianne Bibeau suggested that they tackle HIV/AIDS — a taboo topic at the time.

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Relatively little was known about the mysterious disease just three decades ago. According to the Center for Disease Control, the HIV/AIDS epidemic emerged in the 80s, peaked in the 90s, and though it has declined since, remains a major health concern, particularly for marginalized communities.

“It was something people didn’t want to talk about. Parents didn’t want to hear or talk about [HIV/AIDS], they considered it a ‘gay disease’ and believed it would only happen to gay people,” Bibeau told Global Citizen. “But we knew that it was spreading [in general] and that we needed to do something.”

Bibeau and Bensadoun wanted to find a cause that ALDO could help champion using its reach, a cause that could impact its customers. And even though many people at the time believed that HIV/AIDS only affected certain demographics of people, they knew the disease had no such boundaries.

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“When we picked AIDS we knew our customers wouldn’t necessarily relate to it at that moment, but we knew it would matter to them down the road,” she said.

They wanted to help educate people about HIV/AIDS and create awareness, she said. So they worked with McGill University to create informational pamphlets that they started dropping into every shopping bag.

“We started getting a lot of backlash from parents. They really were very mad at us,” Bibeau said. “They thought we were influencing their kids to be gay or to have sex, but all we were talking about was a disease that was going around that everyone needed to protect themselves from.”

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The parents of ALDO’s younger customers began calling the company, threatening it, and sending angry letters.

“It was very, very difficult to keep going with it, but we decided in the end that we would,” Bibeau told Global Citizen. She explained that what they were trying to do, their commitment to the cause of HIV/AIDS and to giving back was bigger than the backlash.

“So we took a stand, even though it was a big risk,” she said, because they had chosen to focus on a cause that could really make a difference in the lives of many people.

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And it ended up being extremely powerful.

ALDO continued its efforts for years, putting pamphlets in bags and selling ribbons to raise both awareness about the disease and funds to support AIDS research organizations like CANFAR. And in 2005, an initiative that came from the simple desire to do good, became a full on campaign called “ALDO Fights AIDS.”

The inaugural campaign featured celebrities shot by famed photographer Peter Lindbergh featured celebrities like Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, Elijah Wood, Cindy Crawford, Christina Aguilera, and LL Cool J.

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Bibeau said the campaign came together very organically, a natural progression from the many years ALDO had already spent of fighting to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS.

“We didn’t think about it at the beginning, but there was pushback,” Bibeau said. “But we forged ahead — like a bulldozer” because “I think we have a duty, in general, to give back,” she explained.

For ALDO, it’s more than just a duty. The company’s philanthropic work “comes from a place of wanting to do good, and finding the right purpose,” she said.

And it’s that same drive that has led ALDO to team up with Global Citizen.