Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why I Don't Support TOMS Shoes (Anymore)

I admit it. I did not really think it through when I first heard about it.  In fact, Bucknell was participating in a fundraiser and asking alum to buy pairs for needy students so that they could participate.  I was like, "That's nice, here's $40."  When Mr. Palindrome was reconciling the finances he asked me why I had donated anything.  He asked me if he was getting the story straight: "You were buying a pair of shoes for a Bucknell student so that they could feel good about themselves and the other pair could go to a child in need?"  Why not just give two pairs of shoes to kids really in need (which doesn't include Bucknell students).  Good question.  However, I didn't feel too bad about it.

Until I saw this:

As I was laughing through the article, it hit me.  Buying a pair of TOMS shoes is basically a way for people to alleviate their guilt.  Yay, I'm shopping!  Yay, I'm getting shoes!  Yay, they give a pair to a child too!  Let's put on our rosy glasses, hold hands, and skip to my lou.

Great, so a kid gets a pair of shoes.  What about his education? What about her drinking water?  What about their healthcare?  No, no, it's ok - just have fun on your daddy's yacht with your butt-ugly shoes.*  At least you can sleep at night.

And it's different from other things that I do support like buying jewelry and home goods from women's organizations (like Amani ya Juu) .  In those instances, I'm supporting a woman's livelihood and handmade products.   Another example would be Kiva, where you're helping to grow an economy and investing in a future.

Moving through this train of thought, I started chewing on the idea that most of us who are educated and financially secure merely pay lip service to the idea of charity without analyzing the best uses of our resources.  We buy into the marketing of "helping children" and quickly throw some canvas shoes into our virtual cart rather than taking the time to weigh the actual cost of shoes, maximize our donations, or associate ourselves directly with those in need.

Have you put much thought into your charitable giving or volunteering?  Have you made priorities or analyzed charities as investments?  Have you changed your mind about any organizations you've previously supported?

*Hyperbole for comedic effect.  If you own/wear TOMS, don't get your panties in a twist.  Some college kid is walking across the academic quad - not his dad's yacht -  in a fugly pair I bought for them.


  1. I agree that the whole shopping for charity thing is sketchy. Anytime I'm asked to buy something so that 10% of the proceeds go to charity, I feel like I am being suckered into giving a giant corporation money. I mean, Starbucks or the Gap or TOMS could just make an actual donation and then tell us about how awesome they are after the fact. Instead they are using charity as a marketing ploy to get people into their stores. Better to cut out the middle man and just donate directly.

  2. I agree with Two Chicks, it's better to donate directly. Since I work in the nonprofit sector, it's easy for me to research any organization I might want to support, to make sure most of my donation will go to direct services. A couple of good resources for people who want to put more thought into their giving are Guidestar.org and the Foundation Directory online.

  3. I love how honest you are and completely agree. I'm not gonna lie, I've considered buying a pair and honestly -- I really do think they are ugly, just in my opinion.

  4. I got a pair of TOMS for Christmas and think they're great and really comfrotable. I didn't get them for the 'feel good that I'm giving something to kids in Africa' feeling.

    However, a week later a friend told me about an article she read that not only was TOMS all the things you mentioned above, they were also hurting the local economies by giving away free shoes and putting local shoe makers and retailers out of business.

    If buying TOMS was the only thing we did for 'charity' it would be silly to think you were really making a difference!

  5. @LatteLove - someone else mentioned that on Twitter, that they got TOMS for the functional use of them. I agree with you that there's an important difference between buying items for function and buying items for charity.

  6. First - I absolutely love that you reference Stuff White People Love. You get bonus points right off the bat.

    Second - A pair of (used) shoes in the slums of Dar es Salaam are less than $5. So shouldn't that "extra" $20 for the second shoe cover more than one? The math has never made sense to me.

    Third - have you ever seen Toms shoes? Dear lord they're ugly!

    Thanks for this post!!!

  7. Oh girl...don't even get me started. The idea of buying stuff for charity always gets on my nerves. All the pink "awareness" for breast cancer realllly gets me going. How about instead of buying a pink KitchenAid, you give $50 directly to research or to a hospital or the like? On the surface, Toms seems like a good idea, but there was always something a little amiss to me. I am a charity giver straight to the source and I prefer to support local community-based organizations...not that I don't want to support the poor starving children in 3rd world countries too, but I believe in supporting our own first.
    P.S. I like that you "stepped out" a bit with this post - kudos! :)

  8. I dunno. I kind of feel that giving of any kind is better than not giving. TOMS' main clientele is (most likely, I didn't do research or anything) teenagers who otherwise would probably have little to no interest at all in donating money or volunteering. True that the TOMS donations recipients need other things as well, but now at least they don't need shoes anymore. The Bucknell fundraiser you described did seem a little silly (seeing as shoes for local needy students could have easily been purchased for a lower price), but I generally don't think people should be discouraged from doing "the wrong kind" of giving (if there is such a thing).

    Just my two cents, still love ya Lamb.

  9. @athernewleaf - Thanks for weighing in. I think you make a fair point. There is some level of giving going on in the transaction. I think that this type of giving emphasizes the wrong thing though. Instead of focusing on the people needing helped, it focuses on merchandise for the consumer. With minimal effort we can do more good for the same price and I think it's worth raising the issue.

  10. You went to Bucknell? I live kinda near there - west of Williamsport!

    I think I agree with you on the shoe issue - I wish more giving were less about getting.

  11. 1. I like that you "swam upstream" and went with what you think.
    2. I have to admit I like the way TOMS look.
    and 3. I completely agree that things like education and clean drinking water are important, but apparently having shoes can have a major impact on children's lives by protecting their feet from yucky things that you can get from bare feet and from cuts (which can let in yucky things). So maybe it's not SO far fetched after all.

  12. I need a pair of shoes, I'd rather buy a pair from an organization that seems to care about giving back. Sort of seems like the best of both worlds. What's the alternative? Buy a shoe from DSW and give to no one?

  13. Most of the Toms clientele would happen to be teenagers. Not only this, but most teenagers do not donate money to charity. Plus then tend to try and keep up with the latest trends. I for one and happy with the campaign that Toms does.(The one for one) People buy shoes all the time, and the fact that this new trend of Toms helps other people is great. You do not only have to buy shoes from them to give a pair of shoes. You can also buy clothing items, and even jewelry. It is only there basic One for one that they offer. They are trying to implement more. As of now they also offer one for one with vision care. If you buy a pair of glasses,that people will buy anyway, they will help someone in need of vision care. They also have shoes that you buy and all the proceeds go to a certain charity, plus they give a pair of shoes to a child in need. So instead of going and blowing money on a pair of flats in the mall, that has no impact on anyone but your wallet and the person who wears them, you can spend the same amount of money and help someone in need. Yes it is better to donate directly to a charity. However Toms is a business, and the man who started it was giving shoes to children who needed them from the beginning. So it is not a way to feel not guilty, it is a two-for-one kind of deal. I was going to blow this money anyway why not make it mean something.