After my pair of TOMS shoes wear out, I won’t be replacing them. The toll they take on other countries’ economies isn’t worth the false sense of philanthropy that buying them can give.
I bought my first pair of TOMS when I was living in England, and the whole experience felt like I was joining an crucial movement. Everything from the font on the shoe box, to the poster display next to the shoe rack, sold the idea that I was becoming a philanthropist by buying this brand.
As I sat in a cushy chair, the store clerk helped me select the perfect shoe size, explaining the characteristics of a well-fit pair of TOMS.
It’s undeniable that TOMS markets its products well, packing boxes with pictures of children in third-world countries holding new foot-wear, a faded TOMS flag, your own pair of small, canvas shoes and the promise that you are changing the world.
In retrospect, I’m embarrassed of the image of myself—a middle class college student—sitting in an upscale store, getting fit for trendy shoes, living in the fantasy that I was a philanthropist.
In reality, many recipients of TOMS live in towns that are capable of producing their own shoes, and when companies like TOMS hand out free footwear, it reduces local transactions and business opportunities, negatively impacting the economies.
There is no doubt that some of the people who receive free pairs of TOMS don’t have money to buy shoes from local proprietors, and they probably appreciate the hand out, but supporting TOMS only treats the symptoms of impoverished lifestyles, rather than creating long-term solutions.
Effective aid has to include a committed and organized partnership with the recipient of the aid, such as setting up lasting systems and programs within a struggling community.
Even after much criticism on its lack of long-term planning, TOMS’ website doesn’t elaborate on its relationships with the shoe recipients. It just says that it only gives shoes to those who are truly in need.
It’s a nice gesture, but the impacts of this gift aren’t worth that short-term burst of good feelings.
Joanna Peterson/Managing editor
Joanna Peterson can be reached at email@example.com