TOMS: Good for Two

My wife just bought me two new pairs of TOMS shoes. Here’s my review as part of my efforts to change my purchasing decisions to support good in the world. Read about that goal here.

Me and my TOMS go back a few years now. I just received my… hmm… seventh and eighth pair I believe?

I remember the first time I put on a pair. They were a simple pair of classics. They felt so small. I wondered if people really wore these slippers out into the public. They were so light. So flat. So expensive for a such a simple design. Marah seemed pretty convinced this was the way to go, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I love those classics. The simplicity is perfect. Alright, they don’t work with everything. With the wrong pair of pants, your feet just disappear. You also need to have those fancy, tiny socks. If you don’t, you’ll have to choose between stinky feet or goofy, droopy socks. But they are perfect for travel. They are perfect for walking. They just work.

*NOTE: Convenient shoes does not mean you should stay in your seat for the duration of 14-hour flights. The makeup of the Classics will only bring a greater awareness to your swelling, “kankle” situation upon arrival. That’s what I’ve heard anyway.

I remember following up with an older model of lace ups. These were even better. The older versions were built more like the classics, but with an ankle. They were so light it was like I wasn’t even wearing my shoes. I’ve tried a number of styles, and I’ve not yet been disappointed. I have taken them to Southeast Asia. I’ve worn them to banquets. I’m hooked!

My newest additions are… well… they do not seem to be available on the site. That is something I’ve noticed before. I like getting what I know will work, and I’ve not been able to find the same shoe twice. I’m not ready to say this is a problem, but someone may find this frustrating if change is not your bag. Marah may correct me, but the first looks very similar to the Paseo Mid. It could be a Chukka Boot though. What I can say is that I wore these fuzzy, green kicks for ten hours a day for four straight days a week ago. My legs were killing me, but my dogs were silent! They feel great. They look great. I’m sold. The second pair is the coolest looking pair of wingtips I’ve ever seen. they are from the Brogue line, but I don’t seen them on the site any longer. The closest thing I can find is this Navy, flecked soul Brogue at Lyst.com. These aren’t built for comfort as much, but they hurt so much less than much more expensive shoes I’ve purchased. They look awesome! I’m keeping them around. They’ll definitely be inspiring some future purchases.

You might like ’em. You might not. It’s fine. There are tons of options on the TOMS site. I’m happy.

But the biggest reason I’m willing to take part in what some consider to be such a trendy shoe is because of the good Toms provides to the world. You can read more about their model here, but this is what I understand.

Before I start, I want to acknowledge how the TOMS “One-for-One” model has been challenged in the past. There has been concern that distributing externally produced shoes into an environment with inconsistency can harm the local economy. I know TOMS has grown and developed over time. They now have programs beyond shoes and have worked to open production operations in communities who are struggling to support the development of their economy.

For the shoes, TOMS works with giving partners who give development, health, and education services to children in their targeted areas. When you buy a pair of shoes, they don’t just ship a copy of your shoe to drop off somewhere. Your purchase provides a custom-ordered shoe that is distributed as part of a suite of care services for a child. These shoes are much more helpful to the children than my wingtips would be. Here are the types of shoes they distribute. TOMS has a host of giving partners, many who are quite reputable. It seems to me like Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS strives to develop and effectively improve their socially good strategies. I would be slow to accuse TOMS, along with its more than 100 giving partners as doing harm.

I would say the debate is not over. Vox.com seems to have a  well-known attack on the strategy TOMS uses in their model. The first concern here is whether shoes are the reason children face hardship. The second surrounds whether distributing free shoes to the community would be the best strategy to care for those hardships. This is fair, and I absolutely agree any organization should be responsible to test their methods to understand the benefit and hardship they introduce into the world. It seems TOMS has added material to their website to prove a significant effort to improve their situation. Their site now reads “TOMS [is] committed to producing one-third of our Giving Shoes in the regions where we give them.” They continue stating, “local production helps to build industry and create jobs and sustainable futures.” I’ve tried to find more information about the conditions of these factories. I’ve seen some evidence pointing to ethical, fair wages, but I can’t find something clear on the TOMS site.

It’s hard to set out to change the world and stumble on the solution. It seems misplaced to write off TOMS shoes as morally corrupt while purchasing from businesses that are squarely on the opposite side of the fight. I haven’t researched enough to make accusations, and I don’t want to make false claims against other companies who may be trying. I will mention Skechers as a brand deserving research.

Here’s my question:

Do we encourage solutions when we demonize those who try?

I believe in trying. I believe in allowing for failures in our struggle toward success. I want passionate hearts. I want to pursue opportunities to teach the greater population to act more conscientiously. I support the opportunity for businesses to succeed while doing good. I believe we should strive to see all companies evaluate and make progress for the good of mankind. We should stand with them and enable them in our capitalist environment while doing good and not imposing the same disadvantages nonprofits experience in their struggle to succeed.

Pointing out a better way is no excuse for idleness.

You aren’t helping if you point your finger. Together we can find a better way. I see TOMS as a brand working to grow and improve. In the process, they make a great shoe – worth the investment.

Maybe we haven’t pulled into the harbor yet, but we’re on our way. I’m standing on the dock cheering with TOMS-shod feet.