TOMS Shoes: Helping or Hurting?

A few weeks back, hubs and I and two of our bestest friends booked plane tickets Europe for a trip through Munich and Paris.  I immediately started to think about the important stuff, like what I’m going to wear while I’m there.  And that’s pretty much my only concern at this point.

Right now, I am the proud owner of a super comfy pair of TOMS, which are sold by a company who donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold.  Seems super helpful, right?  True, they are not super durable and they are moderately expensive for what they are, but I was considering buying another pair for our trip because these things make you feel like you’re walking on a cloud all the time.  So squishy and lovely.

But then hubs raised his concern that if the donated shoes are the same quality as the ones I bought previously, then they’re really not doing anybody on the receiving end any favors by giving them shoddy shoes.  To further gauge how I would be judged by people if I wore TOMS in public, I asked my sister, an expert in charitable causes, what her opinion on TOMS is, and she said that sorority girls wear them because it makes them feel good about themselves, and also that they are way too expensive for the product that they are providing.  So THEN I asked my coworker, who is a proud hipster, what he thought about TOMS, and he started talking about running barefoot and how humans were never meant to wear shoes in the first place, and I got confused.

I started to do my own research, and came up with a few articles that say that Toms is an example of bad aid.  How are free shoes bad aid, you ask?  Here are some of the reasons:

  • GO BAREFOOT: TOMS shoes are given to children who are otherwise shoe-less in countries where being shoe-less is pretty normal.  They develop calluses and tougher footpads to deal with their barefootness.  By giving them shoes, you’re taking away their resistance to the underfoot elements, but in a year when they’ve grown out of their free pair, they go back to being barefoot, but now without the protection of tougher feet.  So unless TOMS is going to provide free shoes for life, they’re doing more harm than good.
  • TINSTAAFL: Giving someone something that they could otherwise get for themselves harms their local economy.  An example I read pointed out how much donated clothing is shipped to Africa from other more developed countries.  If someone can get a free t-shirt from a charity, they’re not going to buy a shirt from their local shop or market, and those local businesses will suffer.  That point made my head hurt.  Now I have to think about the economy, too?
  • WHO’S YOUR DADDY: There were other examples about creating paternalism and forcing dependence on otherwise capable countries, but they were a little over my head, and really what I’m worried about here is what shoes I’m going to wear in Paris.  Go here to read the entire post for yourself if you’re curious.

It had never occurred to me that TOMS could be hurting rather than helping in these ways.  But I do think that TOMS is trying to do a good thing, even if it is a bit misguided when you think of the impact they can have.  For the record, the shoes that they donate do have a better quality sole than the ones consumers in the US receive.  It’s also important to keep in mind that TOMS is a shoe company, not a non-profit.  They’re out to make a buck, and at least they’re inspiring people to think about where their money is going and the impact it can have.  The general concensus is that donating money vs. goods is more helpful.  So open up your checkbooks and get to donatin’!

At best, TOMS are super comfy yet kind of ugly shoes, and at worst, they are destroying economies worldwide.  As for my shoe dilemma, well that just seems a little bit insignificant now, doesn’t it?  Oh well.


1 thought on “TOMS Shoes: Helping or Hurting?

  1. Pingback: An Embarrassment in Paris | Assorted Annie

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