Upon meeting children in Argentina 6 years ago, Blake Mycoskie, an American traveller and entrepreneur from Texas, noticed that none of the children he came across had shoes and probably had never owned a pair. Owning an item seen as fashionable in Britain begs the question; why are they needed amongst children living in poverty?
This is where ‘One For One’, the motto you hear from the people at TOMS, comes in. But what does it mean?
After seeing the lives of these struggling children, living miles from water, surviving on less than $1 a day and living amongst dangerous terrains first hand, Mycoskie wanted to help. So he founded and established TOMS, ‘the shoes of tomorrow’, giving a deprived child a pair of shoes for every pair sold to a consumer. One for one.
‘It allows someone to buy something that they’re already going to buy or they want or they need and help someone at the same time’ says Mycoskie. ‘It’s really amazing to me.’
One of the main ways that someone can come into contact with disease in developing countries is through soil. Hookworm can stump mental and physical growth, and irritant soil causes Podoconiosis, which leads to swelling of the feet and legs. The infectious and fatal disease tetanus can penetrate cuts and wounds under the feet. Doctor Peter Hotez of George Washington University validates the importance of footwear:
‘In Africa, there is a desperate need for footwear that will protect from highly prevalent neglected tropical diseases transmitted through the soil.’Doctor Peter Hotez
So when children walk miles for infectious water, it’s not just the water they drink that can potentially harm them, but every single step they take. Even the smallest scrape can lead to severe pain, illness and even death.
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Every pair of TOMS which is given as a result of our purchases is critical to the physical health of these children. But what more could they possibly do? They can provide an education. Without shoes children in the majority of schools cannot have a full uniform: without the correct uniform they risk going without a well deserved education.
Giving shoes to over 40 different countries across the globe from Angola to Zambia, TOMS works with other non profit organizations to order shoes for individual communities that
they believe need them most. Although the process from consumer purchase to donation is not instantaneous (it can take from 4-6 months to complete), the success of the company selling over 2,000,000 pairs allows them to provide numerous pairs for every child as they grow.
Now with 3 factories based in Argentina, China and Ethiopia, the company that successfully built the bridge between fashion and activism has become an entrepreneurial victory for Blake Mycoskie. However the successful traveller/business hero clearly isn’t just in it for the money.
It’s the core of our business and it’s time we celebrate it.’ This drive through a growing demand and the desire to give is what makes TOMS different to every other fashion brand. With retailers such as Nike and Topshop being exposed for their sweatshop shames, the shoes of tomorrow brings true charitable ethic to the business world. With the exclusion of child labour and fair wages to workers, the people at the forefront of TOMS ensure that their employees are rewarded for their help, too.
‘Giving is what fuels us. Giving is our future.’Blake Mycoskie
However this is not yet the TOMS happily ever after. The next chapter potentially reaches out to 285 million across the world: people affected by blindness or visual impairment. Currently helping thirteen countries worldwide, for every pair of glasses sold by TOMS, money is given towards helping the visually impaired through medical treatment, prescription glasses or sight-saving surgery. Working alongside the Seva Foundation, a charity dedicated to building a sustainable and cultural future in lower income countries, eyesight can be restored. Within a day children can go to school, adults can return to work within a week and the results can last them a lifetime.
It’s an astonishing, overwhelming experience to see the result buying a pair of shoes can have. This experience is still felt by those most knowledgeable of the miracle that is the one for one cause.
‘I don’t think I was fully prepared for how significant of a life change it would have on these people. There is no feeling in the world that compares to that.’ Blake Mycoskie