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The Blue & Gray Press | May 21, 2018

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TOMS shoes goes barefoot for a cause

By LANDON JAMES

As the weather gets warmer and sandals begin to awaken from hibernation, going barefoot is not merely a necessity but an opportunity to think and become aware in new ways.

April 5 is TOMS Shoes official One Day Without Shoes, where going barefoot is not only meant to promote the one-for-one shoe company, but raise awareness for the many people throughout the world who daily go about their lives without simple necessities such as food and running water.

Instead of putting yourself in somebody’s shoes for a day, trying putting yourself in somebody’s feet, and you might be surprised just how much you learn.

TOMS Shoes advocates a one-for-one policy meaning that for every pair of shoes bought, the company will send a brand new pair to children in need, specifically in third world and impoverished countries.

According to the official TOMS Shoes website, providing shoes to children in these countries not only allows them to more easily go about their daily lives, but also prevents harmful life-threatening diseases, keeps sores and cuts from getting infected and allows them to get an education where most schools require shoes as a mandatory part of their uniform.

“If [the children] don’t receive an education, they don’t have the opportunity to realize their potential,” according to the TOMS website.

Blake Mycoskie started TOMS after traveling to Argentina in 2006 and seeing how many children throughout the country were without shoes. Later that year, according to the website, Mycoskie returned to Argentina with 10,000 shoes made possible by new TOMS customers.  What started in one country has spread now to over 20 countries across the globe.

UMW alumni Watt Smith met Mycoskie while helping out in Ethiopia in 2008. Smith had plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue his comedy career and Mycoskie told him to contact him next time he was in the area. Shortly after he contacted Mycoskie, he was given the opportunity to be a volunteer intern at TOMS.

Smith worked as a “Shoeswapper,” taking all of the exchanges and returns and shipping them back to the factory warehouse. Mycoskie got more than he expected with this intern, when Smith began to leave his mark on the company.

Smith started a live chat program on the company’s website that allowed customers to directly talk to him or other employees regarding questions they had about the TOMS and the mission of the organization. In fact, 35% of people who used the live chat program went on to buy a pair of TOMS within two weeks.

Despite his contributions, Mysockie was unable to provide a paying position for Smith at TOMS Shoes.

“He got a free month of work out of me,” Smith said, jokingly. “He’s a smart guy.”

Most importantly, Smith was able to get a truly unique and one-of-a-kind experience with an organization that is changing the world one “sole” at a time.

As the Day Without Shoes is fast approaching once again, Smith remembers what going barefoot and TOMS Shoes can really teach our privileged nation and society.

“It’s stuff that we take for granted that we have shoes and that we even need shoes,” explained Smith.

Senior John Rowley was walking barefoot around Fredericksburg before he ever even heard about the TOMS Day Without Shoes. Over the years, Rowley has worn through quite a few TOMS. He suggested that the organization could take their day of barefoot walking one step further.

“Wearing shoes is one of those things you take for granted,” said Rowley. “I think if you want a real idea, [TOMS] should [hold the event] in the winter.”

It just goes to show that even the thought of going barefoot for one day can cause people to think of those less fortunate and get involved in new ways.

At the heart of it all, shoes allow us to achieve more than we realize and are something we take for granted more than we recognize.