I’ll be upfront about it, I own a pair of TOMS. I bought them on impulse when I was a freshman and have rarely worn them since. I just can’t ever find an outfit that I like with them, and I hardly ever think to myself, “Gee, I should wear my TOMS today.” But this isn’t about my views on fashion.
This is about how TOMS actually hurts the people they’re trying to help. TOMS premise is, “when you buy a pair of TOMS shoes, we give a pair to a poor child in need of shoes in some poor country.” While this sounds great and makes you feel better about being materialistic because it’s For The Children, it’s actually detrimental to economies in those areas. Why should any ambitious entrepreneur open a shoe factory in Africa and sell shoes in the same market when their customers are all getting TOMS for free? It’s a huge disincentive for the economy to advance and to innovation. It’s similar to some arguments against foreign aid that it stifles the creation of an economy, because who can compete with free aid? Rather than giving a pair of shoes to a child in need, why doesn’t TOMS use its profits to fund local entrepreneurs? What some people forget is that almost everyone is willing to work to give themselves and their families a better life, why not give them a chance rather than stifling innovation in poor nations? TOMS is interfering with the market more than the US government and doing as poorly a job.
If you don’t agree with that argument, also consider that TOMS is making a profit off of exploiting poverty in the developing world. Their business model uses people’s good intentions to make money. It’s selling a band-aid rather than actually working to reduce poverty.
Since UNC prides itself on its work fighting poverty at home and abroad, I urge them to reconsider branding with TOMs.