Saving the World With Shoes

An Argentinean vacation turned into the inspiration of a lifetime for Tom's Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie. The 30-year-old entrepreneur, and former "Amazing Race" contestant, watched children running around the rocky terrain barefoot.

"I came across a lot of children that had cuts and scrapes and infections on their feet," he said. "At the same time, I noticed that a lot of the Argentine polo players and their girlfriends were wearing this very stylish, canvas slip-on shoe, called the alpargata."

Using the framework of the alpargatas, Mycoskie redesigned the shoe to form a collection of stylish, trendy footwear, and launched Tom's Shoes, that sells online and in department stores worldwide.

For every sale, Tom's Shoes donates one pair to a child abroad. In an emotional return to the region, Mycoskie and his staff handed out more than 10,000 pairs of shoes to children in some of the poorest villages in the region.

The need for footwear has implications well beyond that of comfort. Many of these children are denied an education if they do not have a proper school uniform or footwear.

"We find that by giving children shoes, we give them a new chance at life, not only protecting them of diseases, but also giving them the first chance to go to school, and get a proper education," said Mycoskie.

Dr. Paul Wise, the Richard E. Behrman professor of child health and society at Stanford University, says proper shoes and healthy feet are important in developing countries, where personal mobility can be key to survival.

He adds that mobility is important, because many families depend on their children to contribute to the household income.

"Even though almost all countries have laws that kids must stay in school," said Wise, "in Bolivia, Haiti, Nicaragua and many other countries in the Western Hemisphere, a large number of children begin working after the third grade."

Mycoskie's efforts to make a difference extend far beyond that of South America.

Next week, he will travel with a team of 50 volunteers to South Africa, where they will deliver more than 50,000 pairs of shoes.

"As long as we continue to make cool, hip shoes that people are buying, we can continue to give the children shoes," he said.

Melanie Shepherd contributed to this report.

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