Recently a friend posted a question regarding Toms shoes, which inadvertently kept her up at night. I’m barely hip enough to own a pair let alone know that controversy surrounds the company. So I followed the discussion string.
Apparently a school of thought surfaced that criticized the buy-one-give-one model that Toms made famous. And, as the conversational thread continued, seemingly valid points: Tom himself (though not his real name) has been rumored to own a yacht and makes millions from the company. The drop sites sometimes erupt with violence as locals compete for limited resources.
Not one to miss an opportunity for flag waving, I applaud these informed consumers. Way to look into the companies from which you purchase! Our society needs more, not less, work toward retail goods awareness. So while I seem to be criticizing the Anti-Toms folk specifically, I do not intend on persuading people to turn a blind eye toward the companies making their goods. It’s not really about pro- or anti-Toms. It’s about our posture. It’s too easy to be critical and excuse ourselves from being part of a proposed solution.
While I desire non-profits, charity agencies and those who simply desire to give to uphold high standards for the way in which they run their organization, I do believe that we use such transparency as an excuse to make us cheap and avoid giving altogether. Am I looking with such a sharp eye at Old Navy when I purchase their $5 sandals, made by the hands of young children? Am I decrying ol’ Les for his international travel habits?
Toms isn’t even a non-profit, yet we criticize the good it attempts. Is the model perfect? No. Did the founder make a whopping buck? Sure did. But can we applaud the brilliant entrepreneurial move to combine the general desire for social needs with a product? And in his efforts, he provided more shoes to African children than I have – isn’t that worth something? And not only did the impoverished children benefit, our society became aware of the problem. How many pairs of shoes did I help contribute via Toms? 1. How many would I have without Toms? Zero. The author of that awful Starfish
poem would say “it mattered to that one.”
Others mentioned that micro-finance or other means would be more effective at eradicating the problems that face developing countries. Bravo, I agree. And so, dear critic: DO THAT. Perhaps with your partnership, and with the Toms efforts, and with the small steps made by a local UMW and with everyone’s little bit, such problems can be solved.
Until then, I’m fine with the teeny-tiny contribution. I didn’t forgo any planned charitable contributions “because I bought a pair of Toms”. It’s not charity, it’s footwear. And I’ll support any businessperson who uses possible profits for the good of someone else. (He could’ve charged $50 and kept the whole thing, yes?) Criticism in this arena only douses desires for business owners to do something good with what they have if they can’t do it perfectly.
I don’t believe God calls us to perfect charity for it to be a blessing. Wesley said, “Do all the good you can…”I enjoy that I can feel good about a product I was going to purchase anyway (not to mention that they are the perfect fall transition shoe – like an autumn flip flop before the boots come out). If I waited until an entrepreneur came up with a perfect plan to eradicate a detriment to our world, I would never do anything. Until then, I’m glad a few have put money behind their intentions. If they make a bunch of money off of it, then so be it. Maybe Mr. Toms surprise us and give some of that away, too.