How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all’s well,
proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
telling Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7 The Message
Tuesday morning dawned brisk and bright, and both my seventeen-year-old daughter and I headed out the door with bare feet as participants in One Day Without Shoes, sponsored by TOMS Shoes. What, you may ask, was the reason for such chilly foot foolishness?
The reason we went barefoot for 24 hours was twofold: first, we did it to raise awareness of and show solidarity for those around the globe who can’t open a closet and choose from a variety of footwear, and second we did it to remind ourselves how very fortunate we are to have such choice. Now for a moment of full footwear disclosure. I own seven pairs of shoes/boots, considerably pared down from what used to grace the floor of my closet, and I hope to reduce that number even more in the future. My daughter owns double that number, yet it is still a fairly modest selection compared to most of her peers.
Just how many people in the world do not own even a single pair of shoes? A Google search yields a variety of results ranging from 22% (or 1.5 billion) to 40% or more. Reliable figures are hard to find because there are many variables involved. Suffice it to say that for almost half of the world’s population, shoes are a luxury item that doesn’t end up being covered under the $2.50 per day on which they live.
Did going barefoot for a day really accomplish anything, or was it just a case of slacktivism in action? I’ve thought quite a bit about this question since Tuesday. What I have decided is that I cannot answer the question except for myself. This is one of those deals where it’s easy to point a finger and make a snide comment or “pooh-pooh” someone else’s action. Where does change begin? How does one become convicted to choose another path? We could talk all day about that one, but I digress. (Note: I will be writing about slacktivism in the near future.) For me, however, the day was one more tangible way to educate, participate, AND practice gratitude.
While the total numbers for 2011 are not yet posted, last year 250,000 people participated in 1,600 events around the world. For those of you who lean toward the cynical and think this is merely a marketing ploy by TOMS, take a few minutes and visit the corporate website or read a condensed history of this prime example of social entrepreneurship here.
TOMS was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006, following his experience as a competitor on the second season of The Amazing Race and a subsequent return visit to Argentina. Mycoskie decided to start a shoe company that would donate a pair of shoes for every pair sold. Business practices appear to be sound–focusing both on ethical and sustainable practice. The shoes themselves are wonderfully comfortable and washable.
The company name is shortened from the word “tomorrow” that was part of the original concept dubbed “Shoes for Tomorrow Project.” To further the company’s philanthropy, Friends of TOMS was founded as a 501c3 organization through which more than one million pairs of shoes have been donated to children in 20 countries and the U.S.
So here’s where the rubber meets the road and the “sole” of stewardship speaks(pun intended). I can go to any number of stores and spend $10 – $20 on a pair of canvas and rubber shoes, or I can spend $50+ on a pair of TOMS. How is spending 100-400% more for a pair of TOMS good stewardship? First, that pair of shoes on my feet means a child somewhere in the world gets a new pair of shoes, too. The manufacturing and distribution is already in place for that to happen, meaning greater efficiency and better use of my charitable dollar. In many cases local labor and materials are used, making much more sense than sending my used shoes halfway around the globe–shoes that may not make sense in another context anyway. Secondly, I have reasonable assurance that sustainable and ethical manufacturing processes were employed in the making of my shoes. Somebody always pays; the question is who. Do I want to pay a fair price for fair goods, or do I want a girl my daughter’s age or younger working in deplorable conditions so that I can save a few bucks? The moral mathematics is fairly easy to do. Finally, these shoes are simply a really good product. I love ’em. You might, too.
Photos by pineapple9995, Sharron Lucas, and TOMS Shoes used under Creative Commons License by permission. Thank you!)
(I received no consideration or benefit from TOMS in writing this blog post. The ideas expressed in this blog post are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of SOLI.)