So, TOMS is having this campaign. Apparently, we all take off our shoes…. because it is “time to take ’em off, spark conversation, and inspire others!” Sense my sarcasm.
TOMS pretty much runs its shoe-selling on the idea that when you buy a pair, a pair is donated to a kid who, supposedly, they tell us, is in need in the “developing world.” Indeed, shoes are very important. They protect our toes from parasites and stray glass shards. We need them. Kids need them. OK.
And that’s where my agreement with TOMS ends. You see, as many others have documented, their shoe-giving to the developing world is not grounded in development practice, not linked to local non-profits, and not partnering with local shoe producers. In effect, as you can see in one of the videos below, TOMS is giving shoes to kids who, well, already have shoes. Kids who never asked for shoes, could have or did bought shoes from the local market, kids who are part of local economies, vibrant communities, and community led-development initiatives, no doubt. Knocking out the local shoe market doesn’t stimulate economic development, it stymies it. Giving kids shoes “because they need them” and because someone bought a pair miles and miles away, according to North American shoe companies doesn’t do much for a kid with big dreams, a teen organizing a youth group, or a community fundraising for a well project, for example. Basically, TOMS practices bad aid.
As for the awareness created by going barefoot… that’s nice. It’s warm and fuzzy. It makes us feel good. I’m not sure what, exactly, it does for the kid in the developing country who someone thought needed shoes, but no one checked in with about the shoe-need. So, it’s nice. I’m not sure awareness does much but create lots of warm fuzzies “Oh look! We bought TOMS! We care! I show I care by wearing my TOMS! Today, I won’t wear them to show I care even more!” It’s kind of a weird concept. And showing we care and feeling good and all, it takes some effort…. and sometimes it seems like for-profit corporations like TOMS would rather that effort be channeled into “creating awareness” that seems to go nowhere rather than organizing, mobilizing, creating new ways of thinking about the “developing world.” Which, folks, exists in our communities in North America, too.
And of course, it doesn’t cost $50 to manufacture one pair of TOMS, nor $25 per pair (they cost about $50 in North America, per pair). I bet they cost around $5 to manufacture. TOMS is a for-profit company with factories in the “developing world.”
Yet, there IS a counter-campaign! Check it out. Hooray for local champions.
Here’s a bunch more info:
Good Intentions: http://goodintents.org/in-kind-donations/a-closer-look-at-toms-shoes
Lessons I learned: Bad Aid/Good Aid:: http://lessonsilearned.org/2011/04/tom%E2%80%99s-shoes-an-opportunity-for-%E2%80%9Cbad-aid%E2%80%9D-to-generate-%E2%80%9Cgreat-aid%E2%80%9D/
Good Intentions Vs. Good Results: http://www.tacticalphilanthropy.com/2011/04/good-intentions-vs-good-results
And finally, a counter campaign: http://goodintents.org/good-intentions-blog/announcing-a-day-without-dignity-2012-local-champions