Why I Hate TOMS Shoes

By | November 2nd, 2011 | Buzz Blog, News & Views

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

You know what really grinds my gears? TOMS shoes.

OK, I get it. They’re stylish. Even I admit to loving their minimalistic, yet classic, design. In fact, thanks to rewards from my credit card, I’ll even own a pair soon. But I’m tearing off all the damned logos from them, and I’ll tell you why:

People keep forgetting that TOMS is a for-profit company and not a charity. The fact is that similar designer alpargatas sell for around $20 or $25 in boutique shops (I saw them all over the place in Beverly Hills when I lived there earlier this year). With the pair I got (for free) running at $54, TOMS has magically made “buy one for the price of two” a reality. They aren’t taking a cut by donating a pair of shoes; they’re actually making a profit for every pair they donate.

The ‘One for One’ campaign – the premise that for every purchased pair of shoes, TOMS will donate one to “a child in need” – is simply one of the most clever marketing tools of all time. And here’s why: Positioning your company as a charity rather than a profit-making private entity gets you the added benefit that Americans are so massively glad to justify their consumerism as something that it’s not. You’ll see this in the form of student organizations at college campuses all across the United States that urge students to buy TOMS in bulk.

And they do. And TOMS reaps those profits thanks to a marketing campaign that is literally costing them nothing, because we are so eager to write off our consumerism as being beneficial for the less fortunate.

I’ve heard people say that at least TOMS’ business plan is better than not donating anything. But are they so sure? Donating the shoes for free to an underprivileged community is an incredibly, incredibly short term solution (the flimsy design of TOMS shoes in particular only shortens it more). By giving away shoes, it completely undercuts whatever market there might have been in a foreign community, making the communities more reliant on donations. Sorry for sounding a bit like a right-wing nut job there, but I have a better idea for TOMS: Help those local markets by finding a way to allow local craftsmen and merchants to manufacture and sell the shoes, building up the local economy for the future (which also makes them more environmentally stable by cutting down on shipping, and sourcing local materials).

There’s also a lot of classism going on here, with the rich Americans essentially throwing around their money to ‘help’ others; we should be working with these people to build up their communities, not just throwing short-shelf-life donations at them. “Teach a man to fish,” that whole thing.

I could maybe forgive all of this if Blake Mycoskie wasn’t such a massive douche. He refers to himself in interviews as the CEO of a “movement.” No. You’re the CEO of a massively profitable fashion company. You live in Los Angeles. You own a yacht. Maybe if you got off your high horse, you could see that the way you post pictures of underprivileged children in your brochures and stores is a means to exploit American consumers to feel bad and buy your shoes (have you ever heard the term ‘poverty tourism’, Blakey boy?). But I’m sure you already knew that, because it’s all part of what I would consider to be the greatest (and most sadistic) marketing campaign the world has ever known.

So I might wear that pair of shoes when they get here (did I mention I didn’t pay for them?), but I will tear that smarmy little blue and white logo off the back so no one confuses me for someone who thought he was saving the world. I can’t take another day of a peer trying to sell me on the idea that TOMS is a charity. At the risk of sounding like some anti-establishment college student cardboard-cutout, I know better, Mycoskie, and I’m not buying your bullshit. You’re not a savior. You’re not a revolution. You’re a shoemaker. Stick with that. I hope your charade unravels as quickly as my pair of TOMS will.

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  • 113 Comments on “Why I Hate TOMS Shoes”

    1. two words

      two words in favor of toms…


      • Nabila

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    2. Tyler

      I hate the shoes because they’re ugly. That said, if you hate a company because they make a profit, it is difficult not to assume that you are severely lacking in areas such as, oh I don’t know, intelligence.

    3. Ray

      Tyler I hate to point it out but, the person that is severely lacking in areas such as, oh I don’t know, intelligence, is you. Topher did not say he hated Toms because they made a profit, but said he did not care for their marketing which makes them look as if the are a charity instead of a for profit company. Like he states, it is truly a genius marketing approach which has made Mr. Mycoskie a very wealthy man.

      • Matt

        Yes, but a great marketing approach doesn’t bring the support that me and thousands of others thought of when we saw this idea. This is not the only scheme that is happening either.

        • Nicole

          TOMS is a not strictly a charity or a for-profit company. It’s a two-headed organization that is made up of TOMS Shoes, which the consumer-driven , for-profit half, and Friends of TOMS, which is obviously the charitable side. The two halves work in conjunction with one another. Do some research before you write such misinformed, lazy nonsense.

    4. Yup

      I agree. The shoes they sell are overpriced, and of poor quality. The shoes they give away, are of even worse quality.

      The sunglasses they sell are likewise shoddy and overpriced.

      You would do better by going to the discount store and buying 10 pairs of shoes for $5 each and donating 9 pair. And yes, you can do that.

      I had the misfortune of working at this place for a short time.

      Blake Mycoskie is another douche salesguy who wants people to think he’s Jesus while he lines his pockets.

      • Yup Yup

        I have personally been to an orphanage in Romania where many of the children were wearing TOMS given to them and they were a lot better quality than the ones you buy. Granted, the ones that we purchase are of AWFUL quality, but the ones given to people in need are still better.

    5. Tealbird

      Here’s an idea: buy knock offs. they look the same, and let those of us who like the brand enjoy it. You shop at value village? They’re even worst, their “donated clothes” to Africa are SOLD to companies in Africa to sell to people, meaning no ones buying the African made clothes. The problem is everywhere, not just TOMS. At least TOMS doesn’t pretend to be non-profit like so many others. Project Red was probably the worst, buy a red iPod for $150, we donate $5 to Africa.

    6. somebody

      I understand most of your rant, but the part where you said it is an incredibly short-term solution, and added that the flimsy design of TOMS only adds to this, I wanted to tell you that the Toms you buy are different than the ones given to the people in third-world countries. The ones given out are much, much sturdier, as is evident in pictures on the TOMS website. Just thought I’d give you a piece of my mind.

    7. Sam

      The price is higher due to the fact that you pay for two pairs of shoes. At the end of the line one of them goes to a child in a developing country.
      You may call the CEO a douche but think about that: He has done far more good to the world in 7 years than you would have done in 7 fucking lives.

      • Justin

        -Like- The problem with this thread is people are trying to find things to complain about. Toms have donated over 25 million shoes to kids that need them and are now in the eye glasses and books market. Get real people no one on this thread including me has done anything close to this. Let him act like whomever he wants that fact is he’s making a difference and your complaining about it…who’s the douche?

    8. Ben

      Would just like to say that people like you are the reason why I have no faith in the future humanity. For crying out loud its a fucking business. The point of a business is to generate profit. And that’s what he is doing by telling a compelling story. But the guy is not making the story up to grab the hearts of america. He’s a nice dude who saw a problem while on vacation in a country where the majority of the population can’t afford shoes. So he combined an idea to create a profitable business and help the lives of so many underprivileged people. I just read his book the guy is a fucking genius with a big heart. There’s a reason why he’s worth millions, has been interviewed and talked to by the most well known magazines and what not. He’s also donated 10 million pairs of shoes to people who needed them regardless of whether you think the critique the quality to be up to par for you bitchass standards. Have a good day.

    9. crystal

      Read his book,theres a reason he started a for profit business. You can only go so far begging people for money,it takes money to reach out to a significant amount of people and that really eats up your donations. His networth is $5mil. A lot to normal people but a small amt for someone who made a product you cant go a day without seeing. his business model is simple,it works,he does what he says he will do and good for him if he can still turn a profit. I doubt it takes away from the local economy b/c its not something people are buying anyway. I agree that more should be made locally but logistically its not always possible to coordinate the production of thousands of shoes in areas where people live in cardboard homes.

    10. Emily

      I would also have to disagree with this article. Blake Mycoskie might not be the nicest person in the world, I wouldn’t know I’ve never met him, but he decided to create a company that’s sole purpose was to give to those in need. You can bash him all you want but that was his goal from day one. And yes his shoes caught on rather quickly with the college kids and hipsters of America and then spread even faster from there and suddenly he had a booming business which made him become a very rich man. But at the same time, his net worth is averaged at 5 million dollars, which doesn’t even compare to say Tom Cruse or Brittany Spears net worths. Plus you don’t really see him out there buying like five houses and going on all these lavish six week vacations or anything. Plus, the shoes he gives to those kids in need are way different than the ones we receive. You would know this if you researched it and didn’t just assume. And also the sunglasses aren’t awful. I have a pair and they are quite nice. They don’t scratch easily and they work well. Plus I gave a person in another country an eye surgery or some glasses so now they will be able to live more comfortably. What pisses me off the most is that people criticize TOMS mainly because of how popular they’ve become. Blake came up with this idea in 2006 and it’s been growing ever since then. People need to move on. If you don’t like them then don’t buy them. Shut your faces and stop complaining. I can almost guarantee that he has done more for humanity than all you haters have. If you want 100% of your profits to go to those in need then go volunteer somewhere but I think I’m satisfied with about 75-80% of my money going to help others. I’d support TOMS over Tori Burch or Gucci any day.Oh and another tidbit of info, TOMS lets people go with them on shoe drops. Yeah it costs money and yeah you have to apply but not many other companies let their customers go behind the scenes. I love TOMS and I think that in today’s society of materialism and instant gratification they have done a fabulous job at giving people (young people specifically) a chance to better the world and help others.

    11. Jax navarro

      Where is my order for two pairs of shoes from 1/8/2014.0rder number 1109 please can you trace. Thank you Jax

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    14. B. effigton

      Wow – guessing your life is all around miserable and all you have left to vent is a keyboard. Good luck with also altruistic search for fame with your little blog.

    15. Laura

      I actually had a chance to visit their office (which is pretty amazing…slides..ping pong tables..) and part of me agrees with you. yes, I think that their product is overpriced and flimsy, but what product isn’t. And you are right, we are basically buying two pairs of shoes and getting one. However, if you actually want to make an impact and help people, having a for-profit company makes more sense. We all know money makes the world go round like it or not. When you have money you can afford to do more good (or bad but that’s another issue) in the care of TOMS I think they are doing good. Blake never said he wanted to be poor and do charity work. So what if he has some money, I know a lot of people who have much more money and aren’t helping anyone. But I am really writing this reply because you are misinformed. That whole “teach a man to fish” comment irked me because actually TOMS does exactly that. In all of the villages they go to, they don’t just give away the shoes. They go into the poor village and teach each family how to be self sufficient. For example they helped one family get a loan to buy a cow and then taught the family how to take care of it and utilize it. Only then do they get the shoes. They literally are teaching then “man to fish” and the shoes are the reward. Making a profit on their shoes is what enables them to do this. I have always thought non-profit charity’s are silly. We all know we need money to help others learn to make money (I know not exactly how the saying goes).

    16. Shoeless, Not Clueless

      I’m been a vegetarian and socially conscious/politically active longer than many Tom’s Shoes wearers have probably been alive, and I won’t wear Tom’s for several reasons:

      1.) I think they’re ugly. A few of my colleagues wear them at work, and to me they look like. . .bedroom slippers.
      2.) No arch support! When I first became a vegetarian, I attempted wearing old-fashioned women’s white canvas sneakers and black sateen, rubber-soled Mary Janes from Taiwan. Neither had ANY arch support, were consequently incredibly uncomfortable, and exacerbated the fact that I “walk funny” (as I now understand, apparently like I have Asperger’s syndrome. . .).
      3.) In recent years, I read an article suggesting that giving shoes to people in unindustrialized cultures may not help them, because their calluses diminish while wearing shoes, then shoes are outgrown/wear out and are not necessarily replaced. I don’t know if Tom’s replaces a community’s shoes every year, but it seems unlikely.
      4.) Finally, being trendy sucks!

    17. Kristina

      After reading an incredibly pretentious and smug article by Mr Mycoskie just a couple of days ago, I’m loving the fact I’m not the only person who thinks he’s a self-important windbag. Whilst the company’s goal in distributing free shoes to those in need is very admirable, it doesn’t cancel out the fact that this is basically a business ploy to get people to buy more shoes.

    18. Pat

      I am sitting here with a pair of size 10 shoes that I can’t use. I ordered a 7. TOM’s label says they are 7’s, but they sent 10’s. I have never had more difficulty returning any item ever! I really wonder how efficiently this company can get shoes delivered to the children who need them. Maybe I can donate them to my local Goodwill- then someone in need in my community will actually get a pair of shoes.

    19. Collin

      He has made strides in the field of social entrepreneurship, a sector that you clearly do not understand. Also, regardless of whether or not you think he is a “douche”, he’s making the world a better place. While this guy is out getting shit done in the world, you’re writing a very pouty, cynical, pretentious article.

    20. Amberlee

      So I actually went on a Giving Trip with TOMS last October and let me banter some fallacies in your argument. First of all, the shoes that TOMS gives are far more sturdy than the ones that American consumers buy. The canvas is physically thicker and the soles are made of sturdy rubber. And did you know that every child gets a new pair every six months to a year up until they’re 18? This helps fulfill most uniform requirements for schools in developing countries which, in turn, keeps them going to school. I think most people can agree that education is one of the most effective ways to break the poverty cycle, and that’s what TOMS is trying to do. Also, 1/3 of the shoes that TOMS gives are made in countries that they give, which creates jobs for the people there. Lastly, I would like to give you some numbers: I went to Honduras on my Giving Trip. The average family in Honduras makes roughly $300 a month, at least in the rural areas. The average family has 4-5 kids, and the average pair of shoes costs $15. Buying shoes for each kid to go to school, on top of the rest of the uniform cost, is very expensive. So the families choose feeding their kids over education. TOMS provides a way to ease the financial blow on working men and women in these countries. I was able to see first hand how much good these shoes do for people. Never have I seen people more grateful for such a simple service. I will forever be a supporter of this “movement”.

    21. Sydney

      So, what you’re saying is, no one should be able to help the world and support their family and workers.

    22. Smith

      It might interest you to know that the pair of shoes donated isn’t anything like the pair sold in stores. The donated pair is crafted from a much thicker and more durable fabric, and a much thicker, solid rubber sole. The entire shoe itself is crazy thick and sturdy. They’d last the average person around seven years.

      Source~ Tornado near where I live in Arkansas last year. While helping clean up the remains of what was left of the town, a shipment of TOMS brand shoes was dropped off and handed out to people that had had their homes destroyed. There were about three pairs that didn’t find a home, and were given to the people that had helped clean up the town to take home to their kids.

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    24. TopherSucks

      Topher is a wannabe hipster. He is a vegetarian who does cross fit…can you guess which one he will talk to you about first?

    25. STOp it

      Don’t cuss you people. OK, we get it you hate Toms and people are paying a rip off. At least they’re actually giving something to needy kids who could possibly be 5 years old.

    26. SlippedonaBananaRepublican

      You are all insane if you think that this guy is being some pro-labor humanitarian. The starving people in Argentina don’t get HIS shoes! They get a cheap locally made pair of BATA’s which cost $1.60. Even his video shows BATA’s being delivered to kids, NOT his footwear. So you buy a 60 pair of shoes, and then spend a buck and half on a cheap shoe. How much profit does that leave??? It’s a scam, not different then giving money to a charity that has a 90 percent ‘expense’ rate. AND the Chinese made Tom’s DO NOT give a pair to Chinese children. They cost Tom a buck, he makes $55 based on your stupidity.

    27. OneWhoKnows

      FYI – most of the “shoes” that are donated ARE of even lesser quality than the shoes we see on the shelves, which means Tom’s gimmick is making it even more money than most people realize. Tom’s may ostensibly act charitably; however MIDDLEMEN ALWAYS GET THEIR CUT, so if someone wants to give to charity, they’d be much better of giving DIRECTLY to a “real” charity rather than letting Tom’s filter it through their system to the point that only a mere fraction of the “assumed” amount is actually used to “help a child in need”.

    28. OneWhoKnows

      P.S. This article discusses why Tom’s type of “aid” is actually “bad aid” : http://apersonaldiaspora.blogspot.com/2011/04/toms-discussion-on-bad-aid.html

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    31. David J

      So Bain Capital bought 50% of TOMS in 2004 for $200Million. Mycoskie agreed to pocket $100Million and give the balance $100Million he got “away” to “social entrepreneurs”. He still has the other 50% I assumed valued at $200 skin in the business. Brilliant! Leo de Caprio could play him in the movie no doubt!
      Entrepreneur sees kids with no shoes while backpacking and figures out how to use poverty as the marketing edge. It’s the Hook!!!!
      No doubt the “social entrepreneurs” he intends on giving away his money to are some of his mates with same plan…..It’s like a poverty Ponzi scheme!!! Brilliant
      His intent is what I question and keeping $100 Million says it all….yet doubling up and investing in similar endeavours to make profit says even more.
      How much does the guy need to keep himself out of “Poverty”
      That’s the bit that makes me sad….while he sips his Martini and eats Caviar he can ponder from his beach mansion how the misfortunate are living….and how next to make a buck out of it.

    32. Chris

      Hi everybody. I’m Chris, and I work at this small social enterprise. Recently, this organization picked up our work in East Africa: http://www.vayando.com/rwanda/kigali/sandal-making-with-atinga

      Please “#spreadthetread” as we say here, and help us truly do good. Our aim is to right the misconceptions mentioned above in this now growing post-Toms consumer society.


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    35. Chris

      Two resources for all of us:

      1. atingaproject.com (this small B-Corp is the exact opposite of TOMS and does incredible work. Support them!)

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    39. Sarah Hawkins

      Not only do these shoes go to third world countries, but they also help the less fortunate in our own country. Local schools will sometimes get to give these shoes to everyone in school. In my local school, which is in a poverty-stricken community, students often need shoes. I understand that we are no where near the poverty level of third-world countries, but the children do need help. We recently found that every student in our school from grades Pre-K through grade 12 will receive a pair of TOMS. This is roughly 500 students that are overjoyed to be the recipients of a kind-hearted organization. I understand that the shoes are overpriced, but if you could see the excitement from these students, you would understand that the price is well worth it when you know a child who has never had a new pair of shoes finally receives a brand new pair. I will gladly buy TOMS any day of the week to support this organization.

    40. Walk a mile in their shoes!

      Everyone who has ever commented on this thread: Have you seen POVERTY INC.?

      This critically acclaimed documentary more deeply touches upon the real underlying issues, most of which have been either poorly or incompletely touched upon here, far beyond petty arguments and opinions. I cannot recommend enough. Spread this resource!! http://www.atingaproject.com/resources#changetheworldtherightway

      • Walk a mile in THEIR shoes

        Just to clarify previous title: I am NOT saying “Walk a mile in Toms” with the phrase I used in place of my name… Quite the opposite!

        The Bcorp I work with advocates for consumers and entrepreneurs such as Blake Mycoskie to FIRST humbly walk a mile in the shoes of the existing shoemakers, artisans, crafts people, etc. throughout the world BEFORE taking ANY action.

        To learn and walk WITH the people we THINK need help is far more virtuous/prudent – the first ethical step to take before building any business or organization off of those in need (which Toms STILL does i.e. ALL of their marketing). Unfortunately, it is not those “in need” who are poor… but more often it is the West’s POOR (inaccurate) perceptions of those in need which continue to fuel schemes that damage/do more harm than good.

        This author, for instance writes: “This is development malpractice: Kids died because of a series of ill-conceived projects. If you designed them, you’re responsible. If you implemented them, you’re responsible. If you were part of another organization, recognized this was bad, and said nothing, you’re responsible. And perhaps most of all, if you fund crap projects like this, you’re responsible, whether you’re a church group, a foundation, a development agency, or the government. We can’t keep doing this.” Another fantastic case in point… https://ssir.org/articles/entry/development_malpractice_in_ghana#

        It is undeniably critical to consider the entire picture prior to intervening. Listening to others always upholds dignity. Toms did neither when they began. Just assumed. …As thousands of their customers continue to do each day.

        Thanks for your thoughts

    41. rpm

      “Massive douche” is an excellent descriptive of Blake Mycoskie. A merchant for poverty porn and a fairly pig-ignorant one at that. He says he was inspired to start the company after spending time in Argentina and discovering that many children had no shoes and were consequently not allowed in school.

      With a little intuition we can see that these are two separate problems: lack of shoes and lack of access to school. First let’s address the latter. Bare feet were common at school in much of North America (when the weather permitted) before World War II, barefoot rugby is still the rule for kids in New Zealand and bare feet are all but compulsory at South African primary schools. If Argentine schools will not allow children in with bare feet that is a failing first and foremost of the Argentine school system.

      Now, about bare feet. Going barefoot outdoors can certainly be dangerous if there is a risk of contact with excessive ground foliage or human waste on uneven and unwashable surfaces. But as others have pointed out, paving over the most common and soilable pathways children have to walk (for instance to school) also eliminates much of the danger, without exposing the beneficiaries to the maladys of affluence endemic to the shod (fungus, foot odor [apparently particularly bad in these kinds of kicks], tender soles, constricted/deformed toe growth). Moreover concrete does not wear out so quickly. On the other hand, if you give a kid a pair of shoes, even a decent pair of shoes, he’s going to need a new one in a year. Does TOMS keep a detailed Big Data followup list on all the kids they donate to?

      But, of course, a charitable project of a more thoughtful caliber than Mycoskie’s would be less easily reduced to Instagram memes and clever one-line marketing slogans. It’s a lot easier to bilk the gullible than it is to think and build something up. Still, I gotta hand it to the man. Sometimes I compare my bank balance to his year-end sheet and think, “Why couldn’t I have been born dumb like Blake?”

    42. lol really?

      You make it seam like Blake’s aim was to exploit poverty for person gain. If your not already aware of what is happening everywhere outside of United States you need to educate yourself. The advertisements are there to provide the consumer with information about the ‘Specific areas’ in which can be directly aided. Free shoes are free shoes. If some other country sent a huge box of foreign sandals down from the sky, I’d take the freggin sandals. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to go looking for a job just because i have new sandals that i don’t have to work for. You make a decent arguement if your talking to yourself in the mirror, which I’m guessing you’ve done up until now. Helping people and aiding the less fortunate isn’t something that’s related to who we are as Americans. its something inherent with human nature. Perhaps you don’t share that with the rest of the world and your local community. I’m guessing your less fortunate than the people around you and you look for reasons to justify not having wealth. People from all around the globe help and they’re not all as cold hearted as your making them seem. Good luck to you and your pessimism.

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