I first thought they were slippers. We were opening gifts from Kristin's sister and the brown corduroy shoes in my hand bore a striking resemblance to the types of slippers an uncle might wear. Not necessarily the uncle with the cane and ear hair so visible you can see it across the room, but an older uncle for sure. Then, as Kristin opened her box to uncover a pair of red ones, I recognized the little blue and white flag in the bottom. Toms!
I meant to write about Toms early last year, during my hiatus from blogging. I meant to check out their website and order a pair, but one thing led to another and the story I heard on the radio slipped from my memory. Toms Shoes isn't your typical shoe brand. Founded in Santa Monica (naturally) a few years ago by Blake Mycoskie, an American traveler during a trip to Argentina, Toms was created as a way of bringing free shoes to the barefooted children of the world. For every pair of shoes purchased, another is given to a child in need as part of the company's "One for One" mission. They've given out over 1,000,000 pairs of shoes as of September, 2010.
As someone who practically grew up sockless in Vans canvas classics (my favorites being a pair of fluorescent green ones, circa 1993), I was ecstatic to not only have a pair of shoes meant to be worn sockless, but that wouldn't look ridiculous on someone whose neither a teenager nor who lives near the beach. The brown cords I was given (thanks Erica!) were a little too small so I exchanged them for a burlap pair. Yep, burlap. You see, the shoes are very simple. Just a lightweight upper, a thin suede insole that is surprisingly breathable (i.e. no foot stink!), a spongy arch insert for a touch of support, and a very thin outsole.
To say these shoes are light is an understatement. They weigh next to nothing. Your footfalls are so soft that -- pardon the nauseating marketing speak -- you actually feel a lightened carbon footprint with each stride. Which is part of the point of these shoes as Toms Shoes strives to use sustainable materials in their shoe construction. And they're surprisingly comfortable. I already look forward to bringing them on bicycle tours, as sandals and cycling shoes are just not appropriate in some places and it will be nice to have a super light pair of shoes that look great to slip into.
This isn't to say that the shoes are perfect. If I'm being completely honest, I have to say that the shoes are a bit pricey for what you actually get. The standard plain-Jane canvas classics are $44 (compared to the $40 for Vans) but the outsole is surely not going to hold up as well as Vans. The shoes are light, flimsily so, and there's nothing about them that screams durable. My burlap classics were $54 and though I really like them (and have my eyes on at least three more pairs), there's nothing about the shoes on their own that convices me that this is a good deal.
Of course, the shoes aren't all your paying for. You're paying for the knowledge that a second pair of shoes, designed specifically for children 18 and under, is being cobbled for their specific terrain and living conditions. One of the customer reviewers on the Toms Shoes' site comments "For those of you complaining that they wear too fast or don't like them, you're completely missing the point of TOMS shoes." I get what he's trying to say, that the point is the kids, but I don't believe the point should be to fill up landfills with used-up shoes either. I've been wearing my shoes for a few weeks now and though they show no signs of wearing down, they've barely seen the outdoors. January in Washington isn't exactly the weather for sockless slip-ons. Maybe I need those wool botas... Either way, I'll be sure to post a follow-up concerning their wear and durablity in the spring after I have pounded some pavement with them.
I can only hope Kristin and I will be inspired through travel to launch a company that finds such an original solution to a global problem as this. Kudos, Blake. Kudos.