The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 52
Published 5/22/13 | Log In
Better ways to give efficiently
By MEGAN HOYE, Opinions Writer
Published: October 14, 2009
You see them everywhere: stomping impatiently in the long lines of Gwinn Commons, running to Otto Miller Hall for an 8 a.m. class or trudging up the hill to Ashton Hall. TOMS Shoes are clearly popular among SPU students, but the poverty-conscious shoes are more an altruistic status symbol than a donation, which comes at a hefty price.
TOMS Shoes was founded by Blake Mycoskie under the charitable work principle of "One for One," which has been commended by magazines such as People, Rolling Stone and Elle. The company donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair sold. "Using the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good is what we're all about," states the TOMS Web site (http://tomsshoes.com).
But charity should be as efficient as possible. Instead of giving Mycoskie a profit and calling it charity, it's more effective to buy less expensive shoes and donate the left-over money directly to global relief organizations.
Suppose you opt to buy a pair of shoes that cost $20 rather than a pair of TOMS, which are, at the most modest price, a total of $44. Buying the cheaper pair of shoes leaves an extra $24 to go toward donations. You may be wondering what sort of impact a mere $24 could make. According to the ONE Campaign, a donation of that amount can provide two nets to protect against malaria at $10 each, treat a person living with HIV/AIDS for two months, prevent maternal death by providing vitamin supplements at $1.25 per pill or fund six months of education for a child in Africa.
The TOMS we see around campus have provided relief for many, but the money spent on those shoes could have provided even more through a direct donation to a nonprofit organization.
A January 2009 Business Week article stated that, TOMS Shoes accumulated $4.6 million in revenue from its first 115,000 pairs of shoes, and the TOMS Web site projects sales surpassing 300,000 by the end of 2009. While the company does donate portions of its profit to a global cause, it describes itself as a "for-profit company with giving at its core."
Though purchasing TOMS makes a positive impact, it doesn't equate to making a direct donation. Buying the shoes purely for philanthropy is a waste of money because the amount you spend doesn't go straight to relieving global poverty. A pair of TOMS cost anywhere from $44 to $98, and while exact manufacturing figures are unavailable, Sustainable Business Design praises the shoe's low manufacturing cost and retail prices, which allow for both donation purposes and company profit.
Buying TOMS isn't a bad thing; purchasing a pair of these shoes does more good than buying a pair of Converse. But all too often, a pair of TOMS shoes are merely a symbol to the public that their owner is a charitable person.
"If people see TOMS on your feet, they initially think you're a do-gooder," said sophomore Natalie Evans. The social message that transmits by wearing TOMS can become alluring to a potential customer, but it is important to discern the difference between giving to charity and buying TOMS.
The concept behind TOMS is a commendable social and marketing tool. As a for-profit business, it's not necessary for TOMS Shoes to donate to charity, and such innovation and giving on behalf of a company is admirable. Nevertheless, TOMS built its empire using social justice to attract its customers. Consumers must be aware of this before making their purchase.