TOMS: Shoes For Tomorrow

We usually say that we can learn about a person if we walked in their shoes, maybe by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes we might learn a little bit more about that person. But, can we learn by walking a mile without shoes? The answer is YES. We can learn about something. We can learn about poverty by walking a mile without shoes.

Last year I walked a mile barefoot here in Houston and I learned that In developing nations, children must walk for miles to school, clean water and to seek medical help. I learned that In Ethiopia, approximately one million people are suffering from Podoconiosis, a debilitating and disfiguring disease caused by walking barefoot in volcanic soil. This disease is 100% preventable with basic foot hygiene and wearing shoes

I learned about how I can help them. I learned about TOMS, and I leaned about Blake Mycoskie.
He is whom I’ll be talking about today.

Last November, I walked along almost 300 people barefoot in downtown Houston. It is called TAKE THE WALK. Those walks are created to inspire people to make an impact through small actions. They are organized by a three young musicians. That band is Hanson. This nonprofit organization is a partner of TOMS shoes, that day Hanson talked about Blake Mycoskie and what he does.

Before each concert, Hanson walk one mile barefoot along their fans and for every person that walks with them they donate one dollar for five different causes. The walker decides where they want this dollar to go. It can go towards education, access to medical care, medical treatment, clean water, or shoes for Africa.

Blake Mycoskie was born in Arlington Texas. He is 34 years old and has created 5 businesses since college. In 2002 he participated in the Amazing Race reality show; he lost, he got a silver medal. Since he loved to travel in 2006 he went to a vacation to Argentina to learn how to play polo. Once there he decided to visit several small villages along some social workers he had met.

The image of children not allowed to go to school because they did not had shoes was heartbreaking for him, primarily because they were susceptible to health risks. “When I saw these kids running around on glass, or trying to play soccer on a field that had a bunch of rocks, and had no shoes, I immediately wanted to find a way to give them shoes,” Mycoskie

It was then when he decided that he wanted to help them and give them shoes. He said to himself that he was going to create a shoe company and for every shoe he would sell he will give one to a kid in need. For the first time of his life he felt the need to do something for others. The only way he could help them was to create a sustainable profit business and not a charity organization that depended on donations.

A few months later, with the help of his Polo trainer, Mycoskie created the Shoes for tomorrow Project or simple TOMS shoes as we know it today. Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff later that year with 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by caring TOMS customers.

The Mission of TOMS is that if you buy a pair today, they give a pair tomorrow. With so many health problems in the world, many people ask Mycoskie “Why shoes?” I did not choose shoes, they chose me, but I have learned a lot about shoes and, more importantly, their importance in world health and the life changing vehicle they can be to people who are at risk for foot diseases.

According to The Tropical Medicine Resource, Podioconosis is a soil transmitted disease caused by barefoot walking causing lymphatic obstruction which is extreme swelling, repeated ulcers and deformity in the feet and legs that disables them to work. They can only prevent and cure it by simple wearing shoes, but cannot afford them.

Toms started giving away shoes in Argentina and has expanded his philanthropy to Ethiopia and even New Orleans, Gulfport, Mississippi, and the Appalachian region. Currently, the company has about 100 employees with 60-70 located in California.

In just 3 years they have given over 150, 000 pairs. Shoes are made in Asia, Argentina and Ethiopia. Mycoskie said they try to provide jobs in countries where they also donate shoes in order to help local residents “take a step toward a better tomorrow.”

Shoe drops are organized by local leaders and non-governmental organizations in the United States, Argentina, Ethiopia, and South Africa. The band, Hanson that I mentioned earlier joined them on our Shoe Drop in South Africa in November 2007 to deliver 50,000 pairs of shoes.

“You can just tell in their face, as they’re literally stepping down and feeling the cushion of the shoes, what a new experience that is for them, and it’s amazing, every time we do it,” Mycoskie.

Thirty percent of his sales are online but the company has sales in 1,400 stores worldwide.
TOMS has also supported local health and social service agencies that vaccinated nearly 800 children and developed a nutritional census in Argentina to help the government track and respond to dangerous trends in obesity and cardiac health.

By the end of this year they plan to give an additional 300, 000 including USA
GIVE 1 million shoes by 2012.

TOMS created also the One day without shoes movement to spread awareness about the impact a simple pair of shoes can have on a child’s life. On April 8th, people are asked to go a day or even just a few minutes, barefoot, to experience a life without shoes first-hand, and inspire others at the same time.

Blake Mycoskie and Toms Shoes are recognized around the world. He has won the People’s Design Award, invited to the Second Annual CGI U Meeting, spoke at the TED conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design); a meeting of peers including people such as Bill Gates and JJ Abrams. He met with President Obama’s Senior Administration where he presented information regarding potential in the economic plan to support small businesses in the U.S. He also won the 2009 Awards for Corporate Excellence, known as the ACE Awards that recognize American businesses that have provided global leadership.

One for One movement continues to grow, more and more companies will look to incorporate giving into what they do. TOMS has inspired other companies to implement a One for One model. For example, Ralph Lauren sells co-branded Polo Rugby TOMS, giving a matched pair with every pair sold. Element Skateboards has issued limited edition TOMS + Element shoes as well as a One for One skateboard. With every skateboard purchased, one will be given to a child at the Indigo Skate Camp in Durban, South Africa.

His project has attracted tourist volunteers and has earned a spot on Travel and Leisure magazine’s Top 20 life-changing, socially conscious tourist trips. Also, high schools and college campuses around the country have organized screens of the TOMS Shoes documentary, “Shoes for Tomorrow: The TOMS Shoes Story” as well as a Style Your Sole event where students can purchase and decorate shoes.

On an newspaper article written by Sean Poole, said that TOMS only hurts local economy by “putting shoes suppliers and retailers out of business. It perpetuates negative stigmas that contribute to poverty” …said that giving away shoes is not going to solve poverty because this takes “long –term commitment to communities.”

What Mycoskie responds to those critics is that TOMS works with their partners to make sure that receivers are those who cannot afford shoes anyways, so it is not hurting the economy. He also sais that “sometimes wearing shoes in a community where shoes are rare can actually make a child stand out in a bad way, so TOMS partners also make sure children are not experiencing a negative stigma from wearing those shoes. He said that they are not only giving away shoes, they are also educating them and us about it.

Blake Mycoskie currently lives in LA on his boat, on an interview to CBS Mycoskie said that “Once you’ve seen the happiest people you’ve ever seen in your life have had nothing you really start rethinking about all this that the world and society tells us we need to be happy.

He wants to be an inspiration for the youth and “show that is possible to go your own way, achieve success without sacrificing your dreams and to make a difference in the world-all at the same time,” Said Mycoskie. “I never thought I could do both at the same time.”

If you need to learn more about TOMS Shoes or Its partners you can visit toms.com. And just remember that TOMS is not the name of a person it means shoes for tomorrow.

*Wrote this for my informative speech project – UHD – 2010

bclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/local&id=6834828>.

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