Could you get through an entire day without wearing shoes? I don't mean while on vacation at the beach, but in your regular everyday life.
That is what Blake Mycoskie and the rest of the team behind TOMS Shoes are asking you to do Tuesday, April 10 — along with plenty of celebrities including Charlize Theron, Demi Moore, Donna Karan and Lenny Kravitz, and bands such as Punkdafunk, Barcelona and Cherry Bomb.
One Day Without Shoes is an initiative meant to bring home to those of us who have plenty — or at least enough — what life is like for the millions of people around the world who don't even own something as simple as a pair of shoes. "I think sometimes we forget what we have, and occasionally it's important to remind ourselves," says Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes.
"Most people don't even realize how many children in developing countries grow up barefoot and all the risks, infections and diseases they endure," he continues. "For most of us, modern shoes our so comfortable and accessible, we all but forget about our feet, but they are a source of constant focus for others. I wanted everyone to personally understand the impact of shoes, and the difference they can make, so we thought, why don't we get a taste of what these kids go through every day?"
"I think sometimes we forget what we have, and occasionally it's important to remind ourselves," - Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes
The concept is a simple but powerful one. First of all, it brings awareness and just a little bit of understanding to those who participate in One Day Without Shoes, of just how difficult it can be to walk around the world without protection for your feet. For just one day. But Mycoskie also hopes that with hundreds of thousands of participants going about their daily business barefoot, walking into offices and restaurants and grocery stores without shoes, that it will spread awareness. The calculation goes something like this:
Curiosity = Conversation = Action = Change
The hazards of living without shoes aren't simply stepping on something sharp. Diseases are spread through the skin, including hookworm, podoconiosis and jiggers. And even a small cut, for people living below the subsistence level without access to basic health care, can become infected and lead to serious health repercussions — even death. And many children are not allowed into school without shoes, denying them an education.
If you don't already know the business model of TOMS Shoes, the company donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair of shoes purchased by a customer. Mycoskie, who is from Dallas and graduated from Austin High School, got the idea for the business after he and his sister were contestants on the around-the-world reality adventure TV show, The Amazing Race.
After the show was over, in 2006, Mycoskie took a trip to Argentina. There, he witnessed the daily hardships that children who did not have shoes faced. The idea for TOMS' one-for-one shoe model was born. As of April 2010, TOMS had given over 600,000 pairs of new shoes to children in need through giving partners around the world.
Here in Austin, Mycoskie was recently honored at The Nobelity Project's Artists and Filmmakers Dinner. Mycoskie received the Feed the Peace Award for his donation of more than two million pairs of shoes to children in the developing world.
The Nobelity Project, founded in 2005 by Austin writer and filmmaker Turk Pipkin and his wife Christy, produces enlightening films such as One Peace at a Time, that bring people awareness and move them to action. They also work with school nationwide and operate a number of nonprofit initiatives in Kenya such as classrooms, libraries and clean water systems.
These most basic of things, like shoes, are sorely lacking in many places of the world. Alfred, a 13-year-old boy living in Malawi, is one recipient of TOMS Shoes. The shoes that Alfred was given are the first pair of shoes he's ever owned. Alfred is the second of five children. His parents are subsistence farmers in a small village in Malawi’s Neno District.
Rivers surround Alfred’s village, which makes the walk to and from school difficult. During the rainy season, the village is cut off from the rest of the area, and crossing the terrain and river barefoot makes it easy to contract soil-transmitted infections, like hookworm. When Alfred is not helping his family in the field, he’s playing soccer with his friends or hard at work studying at school. He hopes to one day be a teacher.
After receiving his new shoes, Alfred beamed with excitement and said, “[The shoes] make me feel happy and [help me know] that everything will be okay.”
"The great thing about an event like One Day Without Shoes is that it's so easy to participate," Mycoskie says. "We have people participating in our neighborhood and we have people participating in Qatar, Jerusalem, Australia and all around the world. Kristen Bell, Matisyahu, Morgan Spurlock and Heather Graham are participating. . .So are my parents, Kindergarten teachers, 750+ college campuses, lawyers and senators."
TOMS makes it easy with a full toolkit available for download and a mobile app. You can even participate virtually by blogging barefoot, using a One Day avatar for Twitter and the hashtag #withoutshoes, or switching out your Facebook profile pic to help spread awareness.
There are also many One Day Without Shoes events happening around the world; click here to search and find an event near you. In the Austin area, three events are currently scheduled: 4th - 10th grade students and teachers at Harmony School of Excellence will be going barefoot, as will students at CC Mason Elementary in Cedar Park. And at the Hill Country Galleria, Apricot Lane is raising awareness and offering a 10 percent discount for registered One Day Without Shoes participants.
I have pledged to go without shoes on April 10 — will you join me, Austin? Yes, you'll get some funny looks, and your feet will definitely get dirty, but you'll also be part of a movement that is helping provide new shoes for millions of children who need them.