Is TOMS a Little Bit of a Fraud?
About three years ago, while working as a fashion and beauty editor and producer for Alloy, I got to meet TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie at his headquarters in Santa Monica. He took me on an incredible tour of the work space, and I could see how passionate he was for every single aspect of the company.
Of course, I became an instant-supporter and bought the shoes for myself and my boyfriend. It’s been exciting to watch the business grow so quickly! We’ve all happily shelled out $44 (and more, and now $54) for comfy, cool-looking slip-ons that are doing good for the kids in the world who don’t have shoes. Glittered, foiled, canvas, printed, fleece-lined — they’re diverse, unique and totally fun. But ironically, the shoes that Blake made with tomorrow in mind barely last though a full day. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. But seriously, have you noticed how fast they wear out?
At first, I blamed my boyfriend for walking too hard (really, Kimmy?). But then I started asking TOMS wearers as I saw them if the shoes wore out quickly. Many of the people I spoke to already had holes in them, or they were sporting their third or fourth pair. In my mental tally, I suspected that something was wrong with TOMS shoes. That gut instinct was confirmed a few weeks ago when I overheard a Nordstom salesperson telling a potential TOMS wearer: “They’re only built to last about four months.” Woah. Wait. WHAT? TOMS is selling the shoes for $54+ knowing that they’ll fall apart in a very short period of time? REALLY!?!
The South American alpargata style aren’t the most sturdy of shoes, but of course, they are cheap to make. TOMS is a for-profit company, so keeping production and material costs low is a benefit to their bottom line. I don’t fault them for that. But there are plenty of bottom line-obsessive shoe manufacturers who can make shoes that last longer than four months and still build in the cost of two pairs, make a profit, and pay for the costs associated with getting the shoes to those in need (which of course, are a write-off).
As much as I love Blake’s business model and helping kids out there are three very serious things wrong with this situation:
1. I actually feel awful that the kids who are getting the free shoes are getting such crappy quality shoes. They really need shoes that can stand up to dirt and mud and long walks. It’s like selling them false hope: “Hey, kid in [insert Third World country name]! Here’s some shoes! Some rich person in a First World country bought them for you, but we’re so cheap and still need to make a buck, that they won’t last you longer than 120 days. And since First World people are so wasteful, they just wear them for the 120 days and then throw them away to rot in landfills and buy more to help you. And the best part is? We’re getting really rich doing this.”
Doesn’t that seem wasteful? It gets worse.
2. There are so many costs (time, money, and ecologically speaking, materials) associated with getting the shoes on these poor kids feet that drive up the cost of the shoe… all for the shoes to disintegrate in a few months? And even if you argue that kids grow out of shoes quickly, wouldn’t it still be more economically, ecologically and socially responsible to build in the option of a hand-me-down to the cost of the shoe? Seriously! Isn’t that novel? The shoe that keeps on giving? It’s really hard to believe that a company could feel that creating what are essentially disposable shoes is either socially or environmentally responsible (and yet they create “eco-friendly” and “vegan” shoes as if they are doing some sort of good!).
3. TOMS is blatantly for profit. Great! But when you get to write off half-of the profit you make, it just doesn’t seem right to make a product that is, in my opinion, faulty! TOMS is making more than enough profit on two pairs of shoes to be able to increase the quality. Using some 2010 numbers from TOMS site and the “one for one” formula, the 1 million pairs donated to date equate to a minimum of $44 million in sales since the 2006 launch. But it only costs about $5 million to manufacture all of them. Obviously, there are other costs than manufacturing to run a business, but since there’s a direct correlation in the one for one model between profit and tax write-off, it just seems crazy for the company to profit so ridiculously on the concept of doing good when really, not that much good is done.
I know TOMS is branching out into other products (clothing and eyeglasses) and involving the youth of First World nations in solution-oriented giving — I’m so glad they are! All I’m saying is that if we’re going to spend money to be part of the solution, the solution should be effective. Right? Otherwise, wouldn’t our money be better spent in the hands of someone/organizations who aren’t about profit, but really are about the people? Consumers and the less fortunate?
Do you think TOMS should make their shoes with better quality for us and the kids? And, are there some charitable companies out there that you adore and want to share? I want to hear about them! Tell me in the comments below!