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March 17, 2010

One Day Without Shoes

(Admin note: for some reason, I've been getting bombed with spam comments recently. Consequently, I'm going to flip the switch and require comment moderation or word verification for a little while. Sorry for the inconvenience - hopefully it's just temporary.)

Normally, public awareness campaigns that strive to improve conditions for impoverished kids have my unconditional support. And when part of the campaign requires people to ditch their shoes and go barefoot for a while, it would seem a no-brainer for me to endorse. However, with one upcoming event that combines both of those elements, I have somewhat mixed feelings.

The event is One Day Without Shoes (video follows below), a movement started by the TOMS shoes company, taking place all over the country on April 8. The premise is simple: spend some time that day barefoot – all day if possible, but just a few minutes if that’s all you can manage – as a reminder of young people all over the world who can’t afford a simple pair of shoes.

TOMS has to be one of the most charitable and goodwill-oriented companies in the world. Their One for One program donates a pair of shoes for every pair the company sells; the giveaways are typically delivered to needy children in developing countries who otherwise don’t have access to any footwear. Although the company is barely four years old, they’ve given away more than 400,000 pairs of shoes thus far, effectively turning every one of their customers into a benefactor for an impoverished child.

In that light, One Day Without Shoes is a truly admirable idea to increase awareness of the global need for shoes. So I guess the question I have about the campaign isn’t one of intent, but the underlying premise behind encouraging people to go barefoot.

As a barefoot proponent, I should completely support any movement that promotes leaving your shoes behind – especially since I do that very thing quite often on this website. However, in this case, the incentive seems to be that your barefoot experience will be so unbearable that you can’t imagine anyone having to tolerate those conditions on a daily basis.

Undoubtedly, health and hygiene are crucial issues for people in developing countries - particularly for children who are more susceptible to disease and have limited access to modern health care – and protective footwear is a factor in that complex equation. But it’s also true that many cultures have thrived for centuries without any sort of traditional footwear, and there are large (and growing) factions of modern society who believe that the need for shoes is grossly overstated.

The idea that being barefoot is a surefire mechanism of injury and disease would certainly come as a surprise to these folks as well as these athletes. Ironically, groups like those could be the most dedicated and vocal supporters of a national Day Without Shoes – as long as it’s not solely focused on the potential pitfalls of going barefoot.

(Another ironic footnote to this whole dilemma is that TOMS shoes appear to be generally quite minimalist and lightweight – in other words, an ideal footwear choice for a barefoot practitioner. I’ve never tried their shoes, so I can’t recommend them … but perhaps a future product review is in order here.)

Hopefully TOMS will find some way to walk the tightrope between emphasizing the importance of basic necessities – including shoes – for those who can’t afford them, while recognizing and respecting those who habitually to go barefoot for cultural reasons or simply by personal preference. One Day Without Shoes is a very noble cause, from a company who is an established leader in aiding the underprivileged - and I truly hope it’s a great success.

For that reason, you can count me among those who will participate by going barefoot on April 8th.

"One Day Without Shoes", from TOMS shoes (click to play):


Nathan Seibt 3/18/10, 9:36 PM  


I think the point of this campaign isn't to make people realize how horrible it is to go without shoes - for us, it's not at all. And some who do it may discover they love it.

But, as I'm sure you know, going barefoot raises eyebrows - and questions. And when a person who normally wears shoes goes barefoot, people will ask them, "why?" That provides a perfect opportunity to tell people about the importance of shoes to children without good hygiene and health care.

So, the point is not "Going barefoot sucks!" but rather, "Many children don't have shoes, and they're suffering for it. Can you help?"

Anonymous,  3/19/10, 7:34 AM  

All aspects of Barefoot Running aside. I put that day on my calendar yesterday...It is a great way to help spread the word and inspiration to many that otherwise may be out of the normal reach of this information/movement.

Who knows, maybe it will create some new barefoot running followers as well.

Happy Aloha Friday Everyone

Tuck 3/19/10, 7:50 AM  

Tom's shoes started, as I understand it, to combat "podoconiosis", a fairly nasty condition that is caused by walking barefoot on certain soils.

They're to be commended for this. But to take that campaign to "everyone everywhere needs shoes" is a bit much.

There shoes are not "minimalist", they have heels, arch & foot support and are probably too narrow. So they're deform and weaken the feet of kids who wear them.

It's a good cause, to a point.

Michael Shane Helton 3/19/10, 8:25 AM  

I am conflicted on this one because there are two main messages here.

This campaign is completely self-serving for Toms...but that is a good thing in this case. I support the message that some children are suffering from a specific cause and we can raise awareness of that.

I do not support the message that barefoot is bad and causes diseases.

However, in the end, I believe that just discussing the whole "barefoot thing" will be helpful so I will be going barefoot April 8th.

Rick Gaston 3/20/10, 10:01 PM  

Oh nice, I like it. Going barefoot for a noble reason. Just marked it on the calendar and now I will checkout their website for their shoes. Really like the idea of them giving away shoes for those who can't afford them.

It's not horrible to go without shoes over here but I bet it is over there. I can't speak for other countries but when I go back to the Philippines, those streets are not safe to go barefoot in. Out in the country, in the rural farms and villages, yeah probably, but not in city with all the trash and grime including broken bottles and pieces of metal like nails, bottle caps and wire.

Nathan Seibt 3/28/10, 3:56 PM  

Just got back from rural Peru and shoes are certainly necessary there: the cattle roam the streets, which means they also litter the streets. And those rocks would be too much for bare feet.

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