Shoes have, deservedly, been getting a lot of bad press. They are too high, too clumpy and way too expensive. They turn women into crippled, slow-moving, debt-addled idiots.
Even the humble plimsoll has been transformed into a £100-plus status symbol, endorsed by multi-millionaire sports stars at a time when we are all unfitter and fatter than ever before.
I had started to think that shoes have become the ultimate symbol of Western decadence: unethical and hopelessly unsustainable. And then I meet an extraordinary young man named Blake Mycoskie and suddenly I start to see shoes in a completely different light.
Face of charity: TOMS' Blake Mycoskie and some of the children he has helped
You really couldn't make Blake up. He is 32 and handsome in a grungey sort of way with bird's nest hair and slender brown wrists adorned with coloured pieces of string, each one picked up on a Third World trip.
A professional tennis player until the age of 19, when he injured his Achilles tendon, he made his fortune as an entrepreneur, but then decided to give away all his art and furniture and live on a sailboat off the coast of LA with his movie star girlfriend, Maggie Grace, who made her name in Lost.
He counts Bill Clinton among his friends and is confident he'll 'be hanging out' with Barack Obama. His life seems so gilded you might be tempted to smack him in the mouth - until you find out what he does for a living.
Blake shows me his (recycled paper) business card, on which it states his job title: Chief Shoe Giver. The name of his company? TOMS shoes.
'I could have called it Blake's shoes, but the company is not about me,' he tells me. 'It is about giving shoes to the people of tomorrow, to children.'
For every pair of TOMS shoes you buy - online, at Selfridges and, from spring, Topshop and Office - at about £25 a pair, Blake will give a pair to a child in the developing world.
The design of the shoes is simple: no heels or platforms, just functional, comfy espadrilles.
Each pair is brightly coloured canvas made from hemp, recycled cotton or recycled bottle tops, with a soft leather instep.
The winter version, called a wrap boot and costing £65, is the same thing, with a cloth bandage that wraps around the leg.
When you have bought your shoe, another pair is then 'hand placed' on a child (though Blake calls his initiatives 'shoe drops', the operation is more careful than that, ensuring none gets on to the black market).
The shoes he gives to the children are exactly the same design, 'though the leather is more durable, so it will last much longer,' he says.
Shoes with soul: TOMS red wrap boots
I wonder how the son of a doctor and a cookery writer from Texas, who made his fortune when, on crutches due to that tennis injury, he came up with the idea of a laundry service for fellow university students, became so benevolent.
'I felt charity was something you did when you were older,' he says. 'But then I was in Argentina on holiday, playing polo and drinking wine, when I saw children who didn't have shoes, but had to walk for hours every day.
'I thought about their problem from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Rather than asking people to donate money, I would get them to buy shoes and build a free pair into the business model. I spent a month learning how to make shoes, and that was it. I wish it were more complex.'
That was two years ago. He came back to the U.S., sold his interests in his businesses and with the capital hired 'a shoe guy from Nike and a bunch of the best people in the business'.
He now has 45 full-time staff in Los Angeles, three in New York and factories in South America, China and Ethiopia.
TOMS are sold in all the chic American boutiques and department stores, such as Bloomingdale's, which means he has so far been able to donate 85,000 pairs to children in Argentina, Africa, Haiti and even the U.S.
'I was approached by school districts that were still suffering after Hurricane Katrina, telling me of children wearing hand-me-downs that were too big or falling apart. It was shocking.'
The next shoe drop he will take part in personally is in Argentina in January, and he plans to do another, accompanied by Bill Clinton, in Haiti later next year.
His biggest pride is his Christmas season push: 30,000 pairs in 30 days in Ethiopia. The deadline is December 23, and he is on target. 'In the southern part of Ethiopia, I saw children with feet swollen to three or four times their original size, the skin split like a melon.
'This condition is called podoconiosis, where silica from volcanic ash destroys the lymphatic system. The condition affects one in 11 children in Ethiopia. It's preventable if you are wearing shoes.
'We're giving away a special rubber boot that sufferers wear for a couple of months before moving onto shoes; we've had great results.'
Despite the global downturn, his business has grown in the past few months. He puts the success down to the fact that 'buying our shoes gives you a great emotional response: you are shopping and giving at the same time.
'People who buy TOMS know money is not being spent on administration: a shoe is a tangible, practical thing.'
He has managed to persuade Ralph Lauren to design a collection for TOMS - as well as men's and women's shoes, tiny TOMS are in the pipeline - and predicts that all the luxury labels are going to have to follow his lead and be seen to be giving something back in order to keep on selling.
But how can he afford to give away a pair of shoes every time he sells a pair?
'Converse and Nike spend 15 to 18 per cent of their gross margin on advertising,' he says. 'We have never spent a dollar on advertising. We rely on word of mouth.
'Once a month, we take customers on a shoe drop. They go online, pay $1,800 for the privilege, which includes flights, food and accommodation, and come with us to place the shoes on the feet of children.
When they get home, they tell all their friends about us on Facebook. That is how the business grows. We call it volun-tourism.'
If you are still wondering what to buy the fashion victim in your life, then why not visit http://www.tomsshoes.com/. Buying a pair of these shoes will give you a warm glow, even on the most frosty of days.
Ethical shoes: Buy a pair of these TOMS striped espadrilles and another pair will be donated to a suffering child in the developing world
LIZ JONES: You couldn't make Blake up - he's handsome, rich and helps children in the Third World | Mail Online
I'm not really sure which sub-forum this is supposed to go into but i thought i would post it at GR because it seems like a wonderful thing to do .