Shoe the children

Photo courtesy of Sole Hope

You've probably heard of Toms Shoes and their Soles4Souls program (for each pair of the comfy canvas slips-ons purchased, a pair is donated to a child in need). Well, Asheville's Sole Hope works in a similar way — helping needy children in Africa while also providing jobs locally.

"We are based out of Asheville because we love the community here and the groups of socially minded people who reside in Asheville," says founder Asher Collie. In 2010 she came across a YouTube video that shows children having parasites removed from their feet. Without access to closed-toed shoes, millions of children in Africa are affected by jiggers that, if untreated, can lead to infection and possible amputation. A trip to Africa confirmed not only this tragedy, but the fact that the parents of these children had no way to support their families. An idea was born: to fashion closed-toed shoes with cloth uppers and recycled soles, and to hire those in need of a job to construct the shoes. And so Sole Hope was born.

The goal for 2012, Collie says, "is to make and sell 4,200 pairs of shoes in Asheville. … Because of additional donations from individuals who believe in our mission, plus we give a pair of shoes for every shoe we sell in the U.S., we are hoping to protect at least 9,000 children's feet in 2012."

Currently, "All of our shoemakers for the baby shoes are employed locally," says Collie. To take the social program to the next level, another goal for the new year is to employ homeless men and women in Asheville to fashion the locally sold children's shoes. For now, Collie says, "We hope to be able to get more people in the U.S. excited about helping others, giving of their time/talents and making more people aware of the diseases that enter through the feet that are ultimately harming the future of children in Third World countries like Africa."

Purchase Sole Hope baby shoes at Garage 34 (34 S. Lexington Ave.,, or online at


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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12 thoughts on “Shoe the children

  1. Kriss

    This may be a “big” idea, but it’s a bad idea.

    This is similar to the TOMS Shoes scheme to enhance the bottom line by exploiting poor children in various parts of the world as well as exploiting the largess of well-meaning Americans.

    Sending shoes to children who normally go barefoot, and where going barefoot to school and other places is common and accepted in their culture, is doing more of a disservice to them than helping them. What children in poor countries really need most are school supplies, food, and medicine. These are necessities. Shoes are not necessities in these countries. But they soon will be as we brainwash the children into believing so.

    Using prevention of jigger infections as a do-gooder marketing scheme not only exploits gullible Americans who are willing to pay an inflated price for one pair of shoes that covers the cost of two – with one being “donated,” it exploits the children who supposedly receive these shoes. The other part of this marketing scheme is to create new customers by creating a demand for shoes in these poor countries where there was never a demand before. But once these donated shoes are worn out and are starting to fill up the landfills, who’s to pay for new ones – now that children are convinced they really need them.

    Putting shoes on the normally bare feet of African children in an attempt to prevent jigger infections is like putting a band aid on a broken leg and denying the real cause and cure. The major cause of jigger infections is lack of cleanliness – not lack of shoes. And if there is an infection, not only can it be easily treated, jiggers can be completely irradiated by simple fumigation methods. Additionally, jiggers also commonly infect the hands, elbows, knees, genital areas, etc. Shoes would obviously do nothing for those areas.

    • Jason

      Kriss, I couldn’t agree more. “Shoes are a necessity” is a very American idea, not the case in many parts of the world – and not just developing countries, either. Take Australia, for example. The real problems in Africa are malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS (which usually causes people to succumb to tuberculosis or malaria). These children are much more likely to get sick from their unclean drinking water than their bare feet.

  2. Adam

    You may be well-intentioned – I will give you the benefit of the doubt! – but you should really think very carefully about this. People in African countrIes have been messed up enough already by well-meaning westerners. Closed shoes will cause damage to kids in Africa in just the same way as they do in the west – fungal infections, muscular atrophy and foot, knee and hip problems. Furthermore, you will damage the local economy by distorting the market and cause cultural and ecological harm.

  3. Dave

    Shoeing children is such a silly concept, especially in the third world, since a child’s shoe only fits for a few months or so before a child outgrows it. And then they either must get new shoes or go barefoot, or else the ill-fitting shoes will cause permanant musculoskeletal damage.

    In my opinion, third world aid would seem to be more appropriate in the form of sanitation and promoting sustainable agriculture systems which could transform barren, impoverished landscapes into productive systems of food and water, rather than shoes which can be outgrown.

    Shoes are merely a quick-fix for chronic problems caused by decades of land misuse and corruption. You can look at Haiti, which was targeted by TOMS shoes, which has been completely deforested and can therefore no longer recover from an earthquake or provide food and water to residents, but the solution is boxes of shoes?

    TOMS, Ashville’s Sole Hope, and the others are simply acting “shoe imperialists” profiting by marketing third world aid to westerners, imposing their elitist, western view that shoes equal progress. Please either redirect your vision or keep your ignorance away from the third world.

  4. bill smith

    Interesting press release.

    If this were a news article, i’d ask; will the shoes they are ‘donating’ to Africa be old ones they are no longer able to sell in the Stats? Is this just dumping old stock and calling it charity?

  5. Kriss

    Yr such a shill for the barefoot lobby, Kriss. ;0

    But they pay me so well, Bill. ;)

  6. Kriss

    Bill, supposedly these shoes are brand new shoes – but it’s not charity from the shoe manufacturers. They’re out nothing at all, because the shoes are bought and paid for by the inflated price paid by gullible Americans for the “one” pair they buy. They’re paying for two pair of cheaply made shoes, but receiving one. It has to be that way from the manufacturer’s perspective, otherwise they’d go broke. These people are in business to make a profit – that’s the bottom line (both figuratively and literally). All these shoe “give-aways” are clever marketing schemes.

  7. Kriss

    There’s a typo in my first comment. I meant to say “jiggers can be completely eradicated…,” not “irradiated.”

  8. Marianne

    Sole Hope is a small non-profit organization, not a shoe retailer. Their mission was created after observing a need first-hand and deciding to do something about it. I have met several members of Sole Hope and they are down-to-earth, good-hearted people dedicated to making a difference. If you think there’s a better way to help these children, then do it! Don’t just talk about it.

  9. Chris

    First off, the World Health Organization lists shoes as one of the best defenses against the chigoe flea. Also, the inhabitants of the third world do not go around shoeless because of some anti-corporate/west ideal or something. They do so because they simply can’t afford them. Starting a “shoe the third world scheme” as a business plan has got to be one of the worst investment ideas ever conceived. Like they’ll be buying $200 Air Jordans before we know it. And giving away a pair of free shoes is such an evil marketing concept as opposed to buying Lebron James’ fourth home or keeping Kobe Bryant’s Ferrari gassed up? I applaud you Sole Hope for your efforts, and shame on anyone who believes you’re doing anything other than fulfilling a great need. Like these poor Africans hadn’t ever heard of shoes before you guys showed up to sell them to them. As for the rest, please stop trolling the internet spreading your un-informed pseudo-righteousness. You have no idea what you’re talking about, at all.

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