TOMS Shoes: More than just shoes

Pelican Rapids High School senior Emma Hoover was a winner locally–and also at the regional level–in the Rotary Club’s “4-Way Essay Contest” and received a scholarship check for $150. Hoover, along with the second local winner Desi Hurley, right, recently presented their essays to the Rotarians and each received a $100 scholarship from the local Pelican Rotary. The essayists are picutured with Andrew Sorum, Pelican Rapids Rotary Club. Hoover’s essay, exploring the unique TOMS Shoes business, is reprinted here.

By Emma Hoover Pelican Rapids High School, Class of 2017 Rotary Club 4-Way essay winner

Loretta Lynn sings of getting a brand new pair of shoes in her hit song “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and that is exactly what TOMS shoes is doing for children in Africa. I’m guessing most people have seen someone wearing TOMS simply designed canvas shoe. It is a very popular brand among teenagers for two reasons: they are stylish and because when they buy a pair of TOMS shoes, a pair of shoes is then given to a child in need. Blake Mycoskie is the owner and chief shoe giver of TOMS. He thought of the idea while traveling in Argentina. When he saw the need for shoes in third world countries, he created a for-profit charity that was not dependent on donations. Can a for profit charity meet Rotary’s FourWay Test?

TRUTH—Is it true? People always wonder if TOMS actually gives pairfor-pair. TOMS has over 100 giving partners in 70 countries around the world. They have given over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need. They are helping less fortunate people stay clean and disease-free by providing them with the same style pair of shoes that each consumer buys. People also assume that TOMS shoes must be expensive if they are giving away a portion of their profits. The cost for a classic canvas pair of shoes starts at $50; however, they have many other styles such as sandals, boots and heels that cost anywhere from $90 to $150. The shoes are moderately priced and considering consumers are purchasing two pairs of shoes, it is not bad at all. TOMS also provides a very well made shoe, and in my experience, they last quite a while.

FAIR—Is it fair? Many critics question whether or not TOMS business model is just a way to convince consumers to buy their product to feel better about themselves. But, as Mycoskie himself says, “TOMS customers realize they aren’t changing the world with their $55 shoe purchase; they appreciate that the company isn’t keeping all its profits and instead uses that money to help those who need it most.” Consumers want to do good for others, especially those with so little. TOMS also produces one-third of the shoes in the same locations where they are given out to
the needy. This supports local communities by providing jobs to local citizens and by not destroying local shoe makers’ jobs.

BENEFICIAL—Is it beneficial to all concerned? There is another side to TOMS besides shoes—and that is sunglasses. Again, it is a share plan. Portions of profits made from the sale of their sunglasses have already helped restore sight for 400 thousand people. Benefits from the plan includes providing prescription glasses along with eye surgeries and medical treatment. Plus, by selling their coffee, TOMS has supplied 335 thousand weeks of safe water in third-world countries. Even a share of their backpack profits helps prevent bullying through bullying prevention and response programs. Finally, TOMS provides funds for safe and clean births with profits from their handbag and purse sales. TOMS is doing a lot of good in the world and is funding it by providing a product to consumers and a share in the profit.

BUILD GOODWILL AND BETTER FRIENDSHIPS— Does it build goodwill and better friendships? TOMS shoes is building friendships by improving people’s lives and giving them a fair chance at a better life. They have a Social Enterprise Entrepreneurship fund. A social enterprise is an organization that makes improvements in human and environmental welfare in a financially stable way. TOMS is basically helping to fund other companies like themselves that give portions of their profits to help others. They are always looking for new ways to give to people, and even have a product development team that identifies issues in the world. Then they search for inventions to fix the problem and find nonprofits to help them fix that need.

Even though TOMS is a for profit charity, they pass the Rotary FourWay Test as a result of their profit sharing and job development programs in areas of high need.