Last December, I was catching up on the phone with my friend Matt Alexander and happened to catch him between flights on his way to Central America for a surf trip. It was interesting timing as we were having internal discussions about possible warm weather destinations to shoot our upcoming Spring collection the following month. I asked Matt if he had any suggestions and he proceeded to give me a 30 minute sales pitch about how much he loves Nicaragua. To make a long story short, his pitch worked and I nominated (forced) Matt to join our trip as our tour guide, male model and logistics coordinator.
Matt’s affinity for Nicaragua stemmed from his role as the founder of OneWorld Health, a Charleston-based international healthcare provider. We recently sat down with Matt to hear more about his background, OneWorld, and the recent trip with the Free Fly crew. Scroll on to see our Q&A with Matt Alexander.
Q: Will you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start OneWorld Health?
A: The earliest moment that influenced me to start OneWorld began while I was pursuing my under-grad degree in Charleston. I was heading to class one day and I got a call from my dad and he informed me that my parents were thinking about adopting two boys from Liberia. I didn’t have much context about their decision and later I found out that these two boys were traveling around the US to raise money for their orphanage. My folks decided to move forward with adopting them and after 6 months of living at my parents house, they informed my parents that they still had 4 other siblings living in an orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia.
Shortly after hearing that news, my dad called me again and said that he wanted me to join him on a trip to Liberia to push the paperwork through to adopt the other 4 siblings. I had no idea what I was about to encounter as Liberia was only 6 weeks out of the ceasefire from their Civil War. Experiencing that country was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life with such extreme poverty, evidence of war, disease, etc. We eventually were able to push the paperwork through the embassy to get the other 4 siblings to the US. When I came back from that trip, I was a totally different person and had a much different view of the world.
The following year, I graduated college and began working for a company called Prison Fellowship. I was hired to build out a program to get younger people engaged, which led me to spending a lot of time in prisons working with inmates and their families all over the country. In 2004, I spent Easter morning on death row in South Carolina, which was an incredibly formative experience for me.
The Liberia trip and my time working for Prison Fellowship collectively made me wonder how I could use my past experiences and skills to make an impact on the world. I eventually met a guy (Ed) who was working on some short-term relief trips to Uganda. We both realized that short-term relief efforts or what some people call “parachute medicine” was not a sustainable model to help these countries. We knew there had to be a better solution and within 6 weeks of that conversation, we were on the ground in Uganda preparing to open our first clinic.
Q: What is One World's Mission?
A: To put it simply, our mission is to provide affordable, quality healthcare for people who need it.
Q: What made you want to focus on Nicaragua versus other countries? What do you love about Nicaragua?
A: After establishing our presence in Uganda, we started looking for other countries that had similar needs and we wanted to try our model in a different cultural setting. I was already a big fan of Central America and a friend of mine who had spent a lot of time in Nicaragua took us down there and we realized that OneWorld could have a great impact in that country.
Q: Tell us one thing about the international healthcare business that most people don't know about.
A: A lot of people think that we need to flood these countries with American doctors, but in reality there is plenty of talent in these countries but there’s a lack of resources, infrastructure or tools to give these doctors what they need to get started. That’s where OneWorld comes in to facilitate this process.
Q: In addition to your involvement at OneWorld, you are now the managing partner of FITS socks. How did your time at OneWorld influence your ability to run a company in the outdoor industry?
A: Once you’ve taken something from a concept to some level of scale, you learn the basic concepts of what’s needed to develop and plan the infrastructure needed to run a business. There was still a lot of learning involved, but my passion for the outdoors and process-driven mindset helped me develop into my role at FITS. Thankfully, my role at FITS still allows me to invest a lot of time in the continued growth of OneWorld.
Q: Will you tell us a little more about FITS and what sets you apart from other sock brands in the industry?
A: FITS started from a guy who had been in the hosiery business for 4 decades. Towards the tail end of his career, he got together with a guy who had similar experience in this industry. They made the decision to combine everything they had learned in their careers to develop the most premium outdoor sock with the best materials possible (fine merino wool). Our socks have multiple patents and are made in the USA with a focus on the outdoor/active markets.
Q: Free Fly and FITS launched a collaboration sock a couple of months ago. What synergies do you see between both brands?
A: To me, Free Fly is much more than a generic outdoor apparel brand. There is a huge emphasis on premium materials and lots of intention with design to serve the high end of the outdoor market. This aligns really well with what we are doing with FITS and it’s great that both brands are based in Charleston.
Q: What was it like going back to Nicaragua on a trip that wasn’t focused on OneWorld, being in front of the camera, tour guide, etc?
A: It was a really cool experience for me having two different worlds collide and be able to show our clinics to the Free Fly crew and also be able to experience all the outdoor activities that make Nicaragua such a special place. I wanted Free Fly to feel like the trip was worth it and I’m so glad that everything came together so nicely.
Q: Any funny moments or memories you want to share about the trip?
A: The two moments that were the worst (funniest) for me is when Tanner made me take my shirt off and run on the beach and also when he made me jump off a boat into some precarious waves. The last night of the trip I asked Tanner how he thought the shoot went and he said “Great, I was really surprised you did so many of the things I asked you to do.” I didn’t know there was an option to say no to those things and we had a pretty good laugh about it.