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TOMS Shoes Collaboration with the Haiti Artist Collective — Classics Gone Creole

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Ever since watching the first episode of the brilliant Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black, I snicker a bit whenever I see a pair of TOMS shoes — not because they’re laughable (I mean, they’re not clown shoes, for Pete’s sake!) but because, as the show so brilliantly points out, they’ve become synonymous with yuppie fashion. When Piper, the show’s protagonist, reports to prison for a crime she committed a decade earlier (carrying a suitcase filled with money for her drug dealer girlfriend as part of some post-college adventure), a disenchanted correctional officer hands her a folded bright orange DOC uniform and a pair of lace-free shoes. As she looks at the stack of clothes propped atop her forearms, she lays eyes on the shoes and, with no hint of irony, remarks, “These look like TOMS!” It’s one of the many clever moments in which we realize the life of privilege Piper enjoyed pre-prison (other moments include a phone conversation during which she asks her fiancé to list the groceries he purchased at Whole Foods with the type of feverish desire typically reserved for phone sex).

Still, there’s a reason why TOMS has gained such popularity among hipsters — after all, their shoes are not only comfortable, but the company’s “One for One” mission (for each pair sold, a pair of shoes is donated to a child in need) makes customers feel good about every purchase. Since 2006, the company has given 10 million pairs of shoes to children in places like Ethiopia, Kenya, Argentina, and China. It’s also partnered with other important charities like Charlize Theron’s Africa Outreach Program, which focuses on HIV/AIDS education; Charity: Water, which hopes to increase access to clean waters in impoverished and remote regions; and Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative, which focuses on community-based advocacy programs and direct grants that will help create a self-sustaining, vibrant community with educational and economic opportunities.

Rather than focus exclusively on the “giving” portion of the equation, then, TOMS is now expanding the scope of its socially responsible agenda, considering ways through which to offer communities in need the means through which to facilitate their own economic development, political stability, and educational growth. Most recently, TOMS launches the Haiti Artist Collective, composed of a group of 30 Haitian artists who were commissioned to create limited-edition TOMS shoes. By providing these artists with a means through which to showcase their talent and sell their wares, the company is opening up a new market avenue and creating a demand therein, thus helping to kickstart the local economy.

Three years after withstanding a devastating earthquake, Haitians continue trying to rebuild their nation — even in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. Some 300,000 people who lost their homes and/or businesses during the 2010 quake still live in tents, a cholera epidemic has swept the nation, and unemployment hovers at an appalling 70%. Though it can hardly be expected to heal the nation in one fell swoop, this initiative represents a sizable step in the right direction — and, as we all know, every step counts.

The initial TOMS x Haiti Artist Collective collection consists of nine shoe styles — all hand-painted by one of the artists in the collective. Each design is a slightly different take on the classic TOMS slip-ons, which feature canvas uppers with an elastic “V” for a snug fit, a pleated toe with a distinctive stitch, and a latex arch insert for support. And, of course, the paintings adorning each pair of shoes are rooted in Haitian culture. Artist Louis Murat’s design, Louis’ Bright Dancers Women’s Classics Shoe ($68 at TOMS.com), shown fourth above, depicts two women side-by-side, both in traditional Karabela dresses and colorful headwraps, their arms above their heads and their torsos bent forward as if performing a dance. Pierre Rebert’s design, meanwhile, Rebert’s Toucan Women’s Classics Shoe ($68 at TOMS.com), pictured first above, focuses on the island’s fauna, depicting the bright yellow bellies and colorful lime green and orange bills of the toucans dwelling in th forests. Artist Dominique Dieucibon, 26, also focused on Haiti’s wildlife but chose to head to the coastal area, capturing a  dolphin leaping along the ocean in the dark blue Dominique’s Dolphin Women’s Classics Shoe ($68 at TOMS.com), shown fifth above.

Like Dominique Dieucibon’s design, that of artist Carlene Ruben, a 49-year-old mother of two, captures a landscape. The Carlene’s Haitian Sunset Women’s Classics Shoe ($68 at TOMS.com), shown second from top, captures the warm hues one might encounter when watching a sunset by the beach, standing near a palm tree, beholding the sun lowering along the horizon, the sky seemingly ablaze with orange and yellow tones that are reflected on the ocean’s surface. Similarly, 18-year-old Norelus Mackenly’s design, Norelus’ Sunset Sail Women’s Classics Shoe ($68 at TOMS.com), shown sixth above, captures the colors one might see while sailing along the island’s coast, contemplating the lush foliage and azure ocean waters.

Two of the designs take more of a micro approach to celebrating Haiti’s natural beauty. Both Dure’s Pink Flowers Women’s Classics Shoe ($68 at TOMS.com), shown first above, and Joseph’s Yellow Flowers Women’s Classics Shoe ($68 at TOMS.com), shown next to last above, celebrate the exotic beauty of the hibiscus, the national flower of Haiti.

To see more photos of these shoes, learn about the artists who created them, and purchase a pair of your own, visit TOMS.com

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