TOMS Shoes: do a little good this holiday season

Tis the festive season, the time when we all become gift obsessed (the buying and the receiving), prone to spoiling those we love, and hoping, even though we know it’s goes against the spirit of things, that we will be spoilt in return. For many, regardless of religion, it’s also a time to count blessings and fight the internal Grinch by donating to all the good causes that we meant to donate to during the course of the year but somehow never got round to. Certain members of my family, who are more selfless than I am, donate to charities instead of buying gifts (I like presents and I like giving presents, and I try to support my favourite causes throughout the year anyway).

Anyway, I shall now try to get to the point, which is that TOMS Shoes is giving you the chance to spoil yourself or a loved one with a fantastic new pair of shoes, while doing your bit for the children of Ethiopia. TOMS Shoes, a footwear company with a social conscience, has a holiday campaign going that aims to donate 30,000 pairs of shoes to Ethiopian children suffering from illnesses that are completely preventable by simply wearing shoes. To do this, TOMS will donate a pair of shoes for every pair purchased.

The campaign will run for 30 days, from the 20th November to the 20th December 2008. According to Marketwatch.com, TOMS has created a video for their website that looks into the plight of children in Ethiopia. The site also has a pretty cool meter to show customer how many shoes have been donated, so far the number is around the 15,000 mark, and with roughly two weeks still to go, it seems more than likely that the targeted 30,000 pairs will be reached.

TOMS Shoes has womens’, men’s and children’s ranges and I have to say that I was very impressed to see that they even cater to the Vegan women and men among us, although, sadly, not children. In the women’s range, the vegan wrap boots are particularly funky. I wouldn’t pair of those in my stockings this xmas. The boots are a rather dear $98, but other shoes start at a much more reasonable $42 (for men and women). So why not spoil yourself a little the holiday season, and improve a child’s life at the same time.

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Shoes for thought

The type of shoes that you favour could reveal more about your personality, and your sexual preferences, than originally thought, but as a school of thought, it’s not one to which I particularly subscribe. Valerie Steele, author of “Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power” and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, believes that we are all fetishists, at least on some level, and that shoes are an important fetish indicator.

Steele says that there are 4 levels of fetishism, and that most people are around level one and two, which are, she says, completely normative, it’s the third and fourth levels that you have to watch out for, as they are indicative of an obsession. After researching various fetish, pornographic and high fashion magazines, Steele established, not surprisingly, that the stiletto is the most sexualised footwear item, followed by boots.

Stilettos are importantly fetishly speaking because they serve a dual purpose, they can depict women as both helpless feminine objects and as powerful dominatrix-types. Steele says that ladies in high heels can’t run away and as such as under a form of patriarchal control. She must not have seen either of the Bridget Jones’ Diary movies, because if she had, she would have seen a clear example of a woman running virtual marathons in high heels, and running pretty well. The point is taken, however, as many proper fetish heels are extremely high and impossible to stand in let alone run around in. (The heel is also supposed to represent some kind of weapon, which is a blog post for another day.)

9-inch fetish heels

9-inch fetish heels

Other shoes with significant fetish value are boots and sandals. Boots worn by men are considered to be phallic, at least according to followers of Freud. This little tidbit of information was news to me. It never occurred to me that men in boots were trying to compensate for something. Sandals are strongly sexual because they reveal a great deal of foot flesh, i.e. the foot is naked. The foot is supposed to be related to all sorts of things sexual, so I suppose it isn’t much of a stretch for men to find naked feet nearly as exciting as naked everything else. And men are more strongly disposed to fetishism of any kind than women. (By the way, gladiator sandals symbolize feet in bondage, so beware the message you’re sending to men’s subconscious when stepping out in them.)

Gladiator foot bondage

Gladiator foot bondage

Are you going to pay any more attention to the type of shoes you buy from now on? I’m not, but I live mostly in sneakers and according to Steele they’re the most asexual shoes on the market. Not that that says anything about me at all.

Plain old sneakers

Plain old sneakers

Sneakers with a hidden message?

Sneakers with a hidden message?

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Honda makes walkers with a difference

In my part of the world Honda is synonymous with cars, but the company, it seems, is going to great pains to promote its reputation as pioneers in the field of robotics. Their latest innovation, which is currently being tested at a vehicle assembly line in Sayama, Japan, is designed to support the body and protect the limbs and looks like a hybrid between a pair of mechanical shoes and a bicycle. It’s punted as being particularly useful for the elderly and reducing injuries among employees who have to stand for long periods of time (assembly lines).

honda_walk_gadget_full

The device, which has yet to be named, weighs 6.5kgs or 15 pounds, runs on lithium ion batteries with a 2-hour charge time and has 2 motors, one for each leg, which help control users’ centre of gravity and stimulate natural walking movements. It comes in three sizes (small, medium and large) and consists of a belt strap around the waist, a pair of shoes and a bicycle saddle-like seat.

According to Honda engineer, Jun Ashihara, says that it should be as easy to use as a bicycle, which is great comfort to those who can’t ride. Ashihara adds that it should reduce stress and make users feel less tired. Associated Press reporter, Yuri Kageyama, tried it out and found that it takes some getting used to. Kageyama says, “But I could sense how it supported my moves, pushing up on my bottom when I squatted and pushing at my soles to help lift my legs when I walked.”


Japan has roughly 27 million elderly people and with 21% of the population aged over 65, it has the highest proportion of over-65s in the world. This means that devices such as Honda’s mechanical walking aid will come in very handy in the coming years. In addition, the percentage of elderly across the world is rising, as people live longer than ever before, so Honda could be in the ground floor of a burgeoning global market.

honda2

Images courtesy of Honda

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Interesting times we live in

In Interesting Times, Terry Pratchett says that one of the nastiest things you can say to someone is, “may you live in interesting times”. Because, interesting times aren’t necessarily good times. I think it’s safe to say that at the moment, times are interesting indeed. America has its first black president, and rather than that being big news in itself, the focus is on what he can do to save the world from economic damnation. It’s a heavy burden for new shoulders. And while headlines go crazy for news about international banks facing bankruptcy and housing markets racing towards the bottom of a very steep cliff, very little attention is being paid to other industries that are also battling the credit scourge. The fashion industry for instance, is not flourishing as it might have hoped, as people tighten last season’s belts.

According to a survey by Rockport Co., 84% of US adults are consciously attempting to save money, and for 70%, this means reducing their discretionary spending, particularly on shoes and accessories. Only 24% of respondents are willing to “splurge on shoes”. Increased economic awareness has not, however, led to smarter purchasing decisions, as it appears that instead of people buying uncomfortable shoes just because they look good (although this continues to occur), many adults now buy uncomfortable shoes because they’re cheap. This makes no sense to me, rather like drinking broccoli and celery juice because it’s good for you – yuck. The only good broccoli and celery juice would do me is as an emetic, but I digress.

An alternative to buying uncomfortably cheap shoes is to prolong the life of the shoes you already own. Instead of paying for something that you know you don’t really want, why not do as many throughout the UK and US are doing and fix what you love. Cobblers are doing brisk business as pennies and cents are stretched as far as they can go (likewise seamstresses and tailors have queues of people at their doors). It seems that interesting times have unexpected perks for some forgotten trades.

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Empty shoes a sad reminder of abuse

I’m going to do something that I don’t do all that often; I’m going to be serious. November is Woman Abuse Awareness Month and to highlight the seriousness of the phenomenon – which is rife in every corner of the globe and across all walks of life – the Woman Abuse Working Group (WAWG) kicked off their Walk the Talk campaign at Christ Church Cathedral in Toronto. The campaign, which is brutally effective, includes a travelling exhibit of the shoes of those who lost their lives through domestic violence and talks by domestic abuse survivors.

Jackson Hayes, a reporter for The Hamilton Spectator, covered the inaugural event at the James Street North Church on Wednesday the 4th of November 08. The exhibit is made up of all manner of footwear, such as high heels, slippers and sandals, and according to Hayes, some carry touching messages of remembrance, while others still carry marks and stains from their owners.

Clare Freeman, chair of WAWG, comments, “We’re really proud of it (the exhibit) because it’s sounding out the message that there are people behind the numbers. Really, we all need to walk the talk around these issues because the devastation is so large.” Hamilton chief of police, Brian Mullan, agrees with Freeman and in his speech on Wednesday added that the best way to address an issue as sensitive and delicate as domestic abuse is to bring it out into the open. Efforts need to be made to reduce the stigma and shame that are a major weapon in any abusers arsenal. “On far too many occasions, people hide in silence,” says Mullan. “This sort of activity (the exhibit) will allow them and encourage them to come forward.”

One of the most poignant moments in the day occurred when Penny Fisher, an abuse survivor who now works with the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, read the names of 42 victims – women and children – who had died as a result of domestic violence between November 2005 and November 2006. “Each of these women represented here today could have been us,” she said.

42 victims over the course of one year may not seem like many, especially when compared to the hundreds and thousands of women and children who suffer at the hands of their men in the Middle East and Africa, but it is still 42 too many. Much needs to be done to educate the citizens of all nations in the world about the seriousness of domestic violence and the detrimental effects that it has not only on families but communities as a whole. As important as The Walk the Talk campaign is, it’s only a small step towards what ultimately needs to be done to eradicate the phenomenon. Or else we’ll see a lot more empty shoes on display.

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Eco-friendly shoes display style and class: extend beyond tree-huggers

I don’t know if I would consider myself a ‘tree-hugger’, perhaps because the term has connotations that include tie-dyed dresses and unwashed hair, but I am environmentally aware and I do try to be as ‘green’ as possible. As a result, I tend to punt products that are vegan or made from recycled goods, or at least are made by manufacturers who use ethical production methods. That means that since reading about Bourgeois Boheme, and their eco- and animal-friendly practices, I have become a big fan.

Based in London, Bourgeois Boheme specialises in his ‘n hers environmentally-friendly fashion, including shoes, belts, scarves, gloves, wallets, purses and bags; they’ve won several PETA awards, including the 2008 PETA Proggy Award for Best Cruelty-free Online Vendor, and have been officially approved by the Vegan Society. And they have just revealed their new winter line of shoes, called “Love Goddess”. The line includes faux patent-“leather” riding boots, with extra space at the top for ladies with legs that don’t look like bits of spaghetti.

BoBo Boots

BoBo Boots

There are also funky purple wedges (which I adore), flat moccasins and office pumps, most of which have matching belts. All shoes in the Love Goddess line are made from “micro-fibre”, which is 80% biodegradable and 100% vegan-friendly. And they look fab. They’re a little pricy with styles ranging from £65 – £110, but when you think how much good goes into them, somehow that makes it all better. Love Goddess shoes are available from BoBo online, at Hydrex House in London (their first offline retail location) and can also be shipped internationally.

BoBo purple wedges

BoBo purple wedges


In other eco-friendly shoe news, Tree Hugger, the website with an eco-conscious, listed their top 5 eco-shoes, and while the Love Goddess line is too new to make the cut, there are plenty of other earth-friendly footwear manufacturers to applaud. I’ll give you my two favourites:

White Intrigue Shoes

White Intrigue Shoes

Intrigue shoes by Earth use ‘negative heel technology’ that is supposed to improve your posture and alignment while making you feel as though you are working barefoot in the sand. This is my kind of shoe, especially as the sole is made from natural rubber sole and they stock vegan styles and the colours are uber-cool. Prices are around £90.

Pink Intrigue Shoes

Pink Intrigue Shoes

Stella McCartney’s vegan boots, or, to be more exact: Stella McCartney anything. I freely confess that I am a Beatle-maniac, and that by association I am inclined to like things even remotely connected to all things Beatle. But Stella McCartney appeals to me for different reasons. One: her designs are gorgeous. Two: she has an unswerving devotion to animal friendly products and even foregoes PVC in favour of plant materials. She’s just plain cool.

Stella Wedges

Stella Wedges

Stella for Adidas

Stella for Adidas


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10 512 shoes…

World's longest chain of shoes

World

National Geographic Kids set the Gusiness World Record for the world’s longest chain of shoes back in July this year, which I think was a great idea. They collected 10 512 shoes and laid them out heel-to-toe in the National Geographic Society courtyard; the chain reached about 3.2 km. The takkies in the pic belonged to actress Cameron Diaz, so the initiative attracted a fair share of attention.

Setting the record was just the beginning, it seems. In an effort to spread the word about recycling and to help reduce the amount of junk in landfills and floating around Manattan, the shoes were shipped to Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program and recycled into basketball courts, and other play surfaces. Once the advertisement was up on good old Facebook (“Have you ever wanted to break a world record but didn’t know where to start (or how to jump on a pogo stick for 23 miles?”) boxes of shoes poured in from National Geographic readers, families, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, schools, and members of the US women’s national soccer team.

Eight-year-old Peter Wajda of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, organised a “shoe drive” and collected some 509 shoes used to set the record, which is quite something. However, a part of me wishes they had given the shoes away to people who really needed them, not crushed them up for more privileged people to play on, but I guess it was an evironmental drive, not a poverty issue after all…

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