UPDATE, 6:30 pm EST, July 9: Looks like Blake Mycoskie decided to do the right thing and not partner with FotF.
I’ve been thinking of getting a pair of TOMS shoes for awhile. Good price, my hard-to-find-size is regularly in stock and why not support a company that makes doing good a policy with its one-for-one movement? A consumer gets shoes for a good value and “does good” as a child in one of 23 developing countries receives a free pair of shoes.
But now I definitely won’t be getting TOMS shoes. As the company says in its 2010 Giving Report, TOMS is working to “establish shoe-giving partnerships with humanitarian organizations worldwide that have deep experience and long-term presence in the countries and communities they serve. The report doesn’t specify who TOMS is seeking to partner with. According to Christianity Today, one organization is Focus On The Family. The anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-evolution, definitely anti-gay-marriage (as its guiding principles make clear) organization is “working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa.”
Indeed, last week, TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie was a featured guest at an Irvine, CA, FotF event called Feet on the Ground. As FotF director Jim Daly wrote on his blog, part of “Feet on the Ground” was a “Style Your Sole” event in which people could purchase a pair of TOMS at a discount and decorate them. For those unable to be at the actual event, TOMS was offering a special Friends and Family discount as Daly noted:
To receive the $5 discount, simply enter the coupon code of FOCUS when checking out online. This is a great way for TOMS to see the value of teaming up with Focus, and a great way for you to help a child receive much-needed quality, footwear.
Am I reading too much into Daly’s words or is there a little subtle push for the online FotF community to buy TOMS to show “the value of teaming up with Focus” — so TOMS might sell (and donate) a few more shoes?
TOMS is a company that I feel odd about critiquing. Sure, we’re just talking about shoes here, and shoes sold by a company that has made doing good part of its business ethos; some might even feel they ought to send kudos to FotF for wanting to help distribute shoes to children in need in developing countries. But as Irin Carmon writes at Jezebel, TOMS’s potential pairing with FotF could make progressives look askance at TOMS and seek out other purveyors of eco-friendly footwear:
There’s nothing inherently political about distributing shoes to African children, of course. In theory, it’s a good thing for Focus to spend less time trying to police sex and more actually helping people, but they’ve not really cut back on the former. And Focus On The Family isn’t the only group TOMS could have turned to for collaboration, nor is it the only Christian group involved in charitable missions. It carries significant cultural and political baggage, for good reason. TOMS is at major risk of alienating a constituency that has enthusiastically adopted their product, including yours truly.
You can be sure TOMS has already lost one customer and not just because I didn’t think the canvas shoes would hold up in a rainy walk down litter-strewn, puddle-ridden Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City where I work. I’d rather put my dollars behind a company that doesn’t pair with an organization whose “guiding principles” are anti-everything I believe in heart and soul and, yes, down to the soles of my (not-TOMS) shoes.
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Photo by emma.kate