Opinion | Your TOMS shoes won’t save the world
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, January 23, 2012 21:01
Everywhere around Oxford (and many other American cities), you find people sporting the canvas sneakers with the infamous blue and white "TOMS" tag on the back of the shoe. But is TOMS really a "movement" or just a really good marketing tactic? Unfortunately, I believe it's the latter.
According to their website, TOMS declares "with every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for one." TOMS has managed to make large profits by creating a "movement" around their product, organizing the "One Day without Shoes" event every year and having "Campus clubs" at many universities to sell their product. As a marketing tactic, this is brilliant. Would you pay $60 for a pair of $5 canvas shoes otherwise? Probably not. But having a human story behind the product makes you shell out the extra bucks. TOMS has managed to make it "fashionable" to be charitable. We are a society that likes being able to publically project that we are caring people and TOMS provides this.
So why am I criticizing TOMS? Because I feel that TOMS has successfully tricked the public into believing that they are a non-profit "movement," when they really are a for-profit company, and many consumers don't realize the NEGATIVE effects TOMS one-for-one shoe distribution model has on local communities.
The biggest problem is that TOMS creates dependence. The old mantra "give a man a fish, he can eat for a day, teach a man to fish, he can fish for life" holds true here. Many organizations in the developed world send massive amounts of clothes and shoes to underdeveloped nations. In 2008, researcher Garth Fraxer studied the effects of clothing donations and apparel production in Africa and found that wealthy countries shipping in tons of used clothing caused a 40 percent decline in domestic clothing production and a 50 percent decline in employment between 1981 and 2000. That means thousands of Africans lost their jobs in clothing factories because free clothes from America and Europe undercut their markets and drove them out of business. According to The Nation, between 1992 and 2006, 543,000 textile workers in Nigeria alone lost their jobs.
How could this be avoided? By buying the shoes locally. You would be hard-pressed to find a community in the world where shoes are not available. The problem is that people cannot afford them. These people don't just need shoes. They need JOBS so they can buy shoes. TOMS should buy its shoes locally in the countries where it's donating the shoes in order to provide jobs and economic stimulus so the people can improve their quality of life. Currently, TOMS makes their shoes in China, Argentina and Ethiopia, and then ships the shoes to its recipient countries (according to their own website). Why ship the shoes in from abroad when they could be made locally?
Also keep in mind that the average pair of TOMS costs around $50 to $60. If they utilize the one-for-one model, then the pair of shoes they donate to a child costs around $25. Shoes in a third world country do not cost anywhere near $25 per pair, TOMS has to use a large portion of this money for administrative fees, transportation and wages.
Now I don't want to make it seem like I'm anti-TOMS. I'm not. They are doing much more to help the world's poor than any other shoe company so they deserve credit for that. TOMS has demonstrated how companies can be socially responsible. However, I feel they are very misleading when they try to sell their company as a non-profit, which it is not. The company does operate a non-profit organization, which coordinates volunteer activities, but the company itself is a for-profit company.
My recommendation; if you truly want to help out a children in a developing country, buy one of the $10 knock-off pairs of TOMS that H&M, Target and Forever 21 make, and use the other $50 and donate it to a non-profit organization that provides LONG-TERM and SUSTAINABLE aid to developing countries. Not just a handout. But I guess that's not as stylish.