Therese La'O sells soles with soul

Soles with soul
By Walter Ang
May 4, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

La'O (right)
Fashionable footwear with a heart is the dominant theme of Toms Shoes, a brand of canvas shoes that are now available in the Philippines.

At a sunset launch party in Boracay, Swim Philippines head Therese La'O said, "You can get Toms Shoes at our stores Swim Designer Swimwear and Nothing But Water. We are initiating the awareness for this brand and the good it does for children in need."

La'O is referring to the "One for One" program of Toms Shoes wherein for every pair of shoes purchased, a free pair is given to a child in need. The brand has been tagged by the American fashion media as "socially responsible shoes" that allow people to "stay chic while building good karma."

The brand's unique way of operating is borne out of the desire of its founder, Blake Mycoskie, to give back to make a difference. Mycoskie first encountered Argentina when he was a contestant on the second season of The Amazing Race. He later returned there for a vacation and realized that a lot of children there had no shoes to protect their feet.

He created Toms Shoes to make lightweight shoes based on the Argentine alpargata or espadrille design to shepherd his "One for One" movement. His initial donation to Argentine communities was 10,000 pairs of shoes. To date, Toms shoes has already given over 140,000 pairs of shoes.

When La'O heard of this program, she got in touch with Mycoskie to bring over the brand to the country. La'O is one of the pioneers in bringing in fashionable swimwear to the country.

Her Nothing But Water stores are exclusive distributors of internationally recognized brands such as Sophia By Vix from Brazil; 2 Chillies, Aqua Blu and Heaven from Australia; and Split, Hobie and Hotwater from USA. Her Swim Designer Swimwear stores carry labels like Hermanny and Michael Kors.

"Espadrilles are suited for our tropical climate and perfect for the summer," said La'O. The decision to bring the brand over was based on her personal taste. "I like their different styles, colors and makes," she added. In addition, she wanted to show that people can be entrepreneurial in the fashion industry and give back to society at the same time. "Our country really needs to grow our spirit of giving. We can't just sit back and not do anything."

Toms shoes is committed to donating shoes to third world countries like Africa, Argentina and other developing nations. La'O has teamed up with non-profit organization We International to lobby for making the Philippines one of Toms Shoes' shoe drop beneficiary countries.

"Most children in developing countries grow up barefoot, whether at play, doing chores or just getting around. Children can walk for miles to get food, water, shelter and medical help. Wearing shoes literally enables them to walk distances that aren't possible barefoot," said La'O.

Shoes are the answer
She pointed out the health risks of walking barefoot. "Wearing shoes prevents feet from getting cuts and sores on unsafe roads and from contaminated soil," she said. "Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected. Soil-transmitted parasites can penetrate the skin."

La'O said that the World Health Organization estimates that there are over 120 million people who are at risk with life-threatening diseases and illnesses brought about by walking barefoot. "For example, in Ethiopia, one million people are already infected by podoconiosis, which is caused by walking barefoot in silica-rich soil. Here in the Philippines, Benguet and Romblon province is slowly increasing the risk of having this debilitating disease in their small communities," she said.

Silica is ancient volcanic glass that penetrates the skin and makes its way into the lymphatic system. "The lower extremities swell while sores and ulcers develop. The good news is, it's 100% preventable as long as we can get shoes to these at-risk communities," said La'O.

"We brought over Toms Shoes not only to allow Filipinos to enjoy its different styles but also to allow them a fashionable and tangible way to reach millions of people in need of shoes around the world."

For details, visit or call 659-2280.

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