The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Whenever a pair of TOMS Shoes is purchased, the company donates a pair to a child in need.
Photo credit: EMILY STOCK/The Falcon.
TOMS Shoes: popular model with drawbacks
By BRITTNEY FORTUNE,
Published: May 13 2009
After several shoe sale events, the Day Without Shoes and opportunities to decorate previously bought shoes, TOMS has become a common name around the SPU campus.
With their model of giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair bought, TOMS presents a charitable side, which often makes many students forget it is a for-profit business and overlook some of its criticisms.
Sophomore Natalie Alfaro, TOMS' campus representative for SPU, said that while TOMS in many ways acts like a non-profit company, it is in fact for-profit.
TOMS Shoes has boomed from a small California company to a worldwide seller in just three years. But with the adult pairs of TOMS shoes costing between $44 and $98, many people think it is just another attempt for the customer dollar.
According to its Web site, TOMS is a "for-profit company with giving at its core" (http://tomsshoes.com).
Alfaro said TOMS is not a holistic practice and wishes they would team up with other organizations to provide more things such as food and water for the people they visit.
On a blog discussion of TOMS, member jdelfs.bgi.edu said TOMS was flawed because "we need to change the system that creates this poverty, not just mask poverty with new shoes" (http://sustainablebusinessdesign.blogspot.com).
But the fact that TOMS cares enough to even take shoes to children in need is what makes them unique, Alfaro said, since most companies do not do that.
While TOMS Shoes is a for-profit business, it does have a partner branch, Friends of TOMS.
Friends of TOMS is a nonprofit organization that funds specific needs for the areas they visit, according to their Web site (http://friendsoftoms.org).
Friends of TOMS designed a shoe for people walking in volcanic ash in Ethiopia, which protects their feet from podoconiosis, a contagious foot infection that often causes an individual to become an outcast of society, according to the TOMS Web site. TOMS produced and delivered the shoes with help of the consumer dollar.
The TOMS Web site also says their factories are located in Argentina, China and Ethiopia.
According to The National Labor Committee statistics, the legal minimum wage in China is only 64 cents an hour.
TOMS would not respond to questions regarding the labor practices of their shoes; however, a CNBC special titled "The Entrepreneurs," which aired Sunday, said the production cost of each pair of TOMS shoes is about $9.
The special also portrayed how TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie was laughed at by other entrepreneurs who did not think he would make a profit.
CNBC did not provide a salary figure but said Mycoskie makes enough profit to live comfortably.
For some, such as Tracy Damico-Osetek who posted on TOMS' Facebook.com fan page, TOMS is "giving women a justifiable reason to buy shoes!!! Pure genius!!"
Junior Liese Narkevitz said that, ideally, people would just buy cheap shoes and donate them to kids in need, but the fact that you are getting a pair while you give one helps TOMS' marketing.
According to the fan page, many people said they have bought two, three or even four pairs in their excitement over the cause.
Freshman Heather Canby considers what TOMS is doing as a revolutionary business model.
"They could be making a lot of money selling shoes for $44 and not giving any away," Canby said.
You're essentially buying both pairs for $22 each, Alfaro said.
Narkevitz said she likes the style and idea of the shoes but can't afford to buy them.
"It is a fad," Narkevitz said, "People like the style and they can say that they helped."
Senior Katelyn Edler said TOMS has definitely turned into a "popularity thing, same as when Chuck Taylors came back into style."
The quality of the shoes is debated, too. Conor Francis O'Rourke commented on the fan page that, after wearing his shoes nonstop for a month, they had begun to develop holes.
Canby said she has had her pair a year and a half and they are still in perfect condition, although she doesn't wear them every day.
One problem TOMS fails to address in their business practice is the issue of childrens' rapidly growing feet, Alfaro said, although it is assumed that families will pass shoes down to younger children.
While TOMS' one-for-one business model of delivering a pair of shoes to a child in need when a pair is purchased by the consumer is not a new concept, it has grown in popularity over the past few years.
Companies such as BoGoLight.com and One Laptop per Child utilized the same concept before TOMS was created, delivering flashlights or laptops to children in need when one is purchased from their company.
Other charities that work in the non-profit side of the issue are unheard of by most SPU students, although Alfaro suggested looking at their work as an example of a non-business-model.
Charities like Shareyoursoles.org and Soles4Souls.org have been collecting used shoes and distributing them across the United States and the rest of the world for almost 10 years.
While students like Narkevitz said they can only spend minimal amounts of money on shoes, Edler admits she would on average spend between $40 and $110 on a pair of shoes.
In reality, people do spend a lot of money on shoes, Alfaro said, and giving to a cause is always a good thing.
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