Tag Archives: TOMS

The Next Chapter of TOMS Reads Like the Last One

So, this week TOMS made a huge announcement with a coordinated, nation-wide reveal: their expanding beyond shoes. The idea is to expand the One for One model to fit everyone’s needs – not everyone is in need of shoes, but some need eyeglasses, for instance. And, as one might guess, with TOMS revealing a new campaign I thought about revealing a new blog post about it.

The One for One model has spread around, despite TOMS having trademarked the phrase. There are many companies that match purchases through giving, but TOMS still feels like a rock in my Converse. While others have contacted partners in developing areas to work with, TOMS continues the shoe-drop model. As before, my main gripe about TOMS is the lack of sustainability involved in handing out shoes to tons of people who need them. It does nothing to buttress the economy or to help recipients improve their livelihoods – save adding shoes to their wardrobe.

If the next chapter for TOMS included opening manufacturing centers in developing countries and employing people to build and sell the shoes instead of handing them out, that’d be an improvement. Training local people to become business leaders allows them to rise up by their own bootstraps and it provides a new service to the community (if there is a gap in that sector, which there isn’t always). If you decide to add finance training, micro-loans, and other services you’d really be in business.

But the next chapter of TOMS included eyewear. The One for One model shifted slightly with this expansion. Instead of just glasses-for-glasses, it’s eyesight-for-eyesight. You buy a pair of shades and TOMS will either give out glasses, provide prescription medication, or perform eye surgery on those in need. Pretty sweet, right? Well, only kind of. I see some improvement in providing health services, but TOMS isn’t building anything sustainable here. They say that giving people sight will improve education, health, and economy but really, it’s only improving eye sight. The members of these communities will only be impacted in that they can see better and that they will depend more on the next development NGO to roll into town.

Back to that paragraph about sustainability: if you want to buy glasses that do something more than help you see better, try Warby Parker. It’s a company I only recently heard about, so I am not endorsing it, mostly because in some instances they give glasses at the conclusion of a free eye exam, which isn’t really sustainable. But their partner is. VisionSpring does more than provide the glasses – they also train low-income women to sell glasses to people in their communities for $4, even providing them with a eye-care-business-in-a-bag.

The co-founder of Warby Parker used to direct VisionSpring, where he first put together the idea that you can avoid aid dependence if A. the recipient makes the decision to get glasses, and doesn’t just have them given to him or her, and B. the recipient gains ownership over the glasses literally by paying for them. On top of all of that, they help train and employ women who are in need of income. Win, win!

Warby Parker partners with VisionSpring, which is an amazing group – so if you feel like making an impact with your glasses that seems like a better option. If you’re feeling good you can even donate directly to VisionSpring! And – as usual – if you’re going to try to make a difference in others’ lives, make sure it’s a positive difference.

For-Profit or Not-For-Profit?

So, there are two or three things in the Africa/philanthropy/activism field I’ve been meaning to rant about.  This is one, and at least another will follow sometime.   Since they are rants, I apologize for any rambling or over-impassioned writing. Now, onward to companies I refuse to support.

In the philanthropic world, there are a couple of things that are all the rage.  One, is Toms Shoes. A lesser one is Ethos Water, a sub-group from the giant Starbucks Foundation. I have grievances about these two companies.

Toms Shoes is a for-profit company that’s selling point is this: If you buy a pair of $40-90 shoes, we’ll donate a pair to a needy child in South America or Africa. One for one. It’s that simple, and it sells like hotcakes to hipsters wanting to help.

My beef with Toms Shoes has several dimensions to it. When I first  heard about Toms Shoes, it was because my friend Mike was explaining his grievances to an Invisible Children roadie. Since then, I’ve looked more and more into the company and have come to pretty much the same conclusions as Mike.

  • First of all, giving shoes to kids is just not sustainable. When that pair of shoes wears out, they’ll just be waiting for the next trip Blake Mycoskie makes with free shoes. It’s be much better if community development helped empower people with jobs and maybe they could buy their children shoes themselves.
  • But the company is giving away shoes! That’s so genuinely kind of them! NO.  Since it’s a for-profit company, they don’t release credible numbers. But we do know that they outsource production, meaning these $40-90 shoes probably cost a fistful of dollars. The positive press they get for giving cheap shoes away more than makes up for the loss.
  • Want to make this a better model? Make the shoes fair trade. Employ locally here so that American parents can buy their children shoes; or  even better, employ on-site, so that  the local residents get jobs and their children get shoes. Maybe give them some personal finance lessons so that now they’re kids can wear those donated shoes to school. There are so many roads to improvement, but they cost this altruistic for-profit too much money to consider.
  • Youngsters wanting to be a part of something truly good volunteer to work for Toms or to promote the company in places like college campuses. As my friend Mike put it, it’s like Nike having volunteers. A company uses its “good deed” which doesn’t really cost it anything and it gets free promotions and even some free labor out of it, so giving shoes away in Argentina actually saves them a lot of cash.
  • Also, the shoes look okay, but those boots are hella freaky.

Ethos Water is that bottle that you see in Starbucks stores that boasts, right on the bottle in blue letters, “helping children get clean water.” For every bottle sold, the company donates $0.05 to a water-related aid agency that is helping some of the billion people without clean water get clean water.

My gripe with Ethos Water is probably even greater than with Toms. It is also multi-faceted, and I was introduced to my problems when standing in a Starbucks one day waiting to meet a friend. I picked up the bottle, read the label, saw the price, and just about kicked somebody (maybe Peter Thum).

  • For starters, each bottle ranges from $2-4. For one bottle of purified water. I could buy a 24-pack of bottled water at Fry’s for about $3.50. The equivalent in Ethos would be about $100, of which $1.20 would go towards real change-makers. Or I could buy said carton of bottled water and donate $96 directly to programs.
  • With all this eco-friendly craziness going on, you’d think they would at least be good in that regard. Even though it’s made by Pepsi Co, who uses recycled plastic in all their bottles – Ethos Water doesn’t. They introduce new plastics into the world.
  • Starbucks bought Ethos Water for $8,000,000. To date, Ethos Water has donated $6,000,000. That’s just a fun fact.
  • Another fun fact: one could donate $100 to Charity Water and do some good. To get $100 to affiliated groups through Ethos Water, you’d have to buy 2000 bottles, or spend $4000-8000 dollars. And you would be creating all that  plastic waste in your wake.

Now, I don’t mind for-profits that send a little to a charity, like when Yoplait collects yogurt-tops for Breast Cancer awareness (my grievances with the Breast Cancer awareness cause [re: industry] aside) or others. These are companies choosing to send a portion  to a cause. I don’t support companies founded on pathos and espouse this cause and misuse the disadvantaged to get your cash. My favorite, of course, is the non-profit sector. These non-governmental organizations actually do work, and many are transparent about how their money is spent. Not all are ethical, many have too much overhead (but that’s a blogpost for another day) but they  at least have a mission statement and are  restricted by NGO requirements.  So, if you feel like giving shoes to kids or building a well in a rural village, do it in a better way please. Or just don’t tell me about it.

EDIT: All links should be fixed. Sorry, I’m forgetful about HTML rules.