If you were asked to name a philanthropic company, what would come to mind? Since its founding in 2006, TOMS has grown to become one of the best known “socially responsible” brands, receiving the Footwear News Brand of the Year award in 2010 and the Award for Corporate Excellence from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.
The concept is simple: for every pair of TOMS shoes sold, another pair will be donated to a child in need. “One for one,” as they call it.
After a trip to Argentina in which founder Blake Mycoskie came across many children in poor areas without shoes, he recognized the problems these children and their communities face without shoes to wear – not just in terms of health, but also in education and future opportunities. For example, providing shoes to children who were previously unable to walk to school would then allow them to do so.
So how is TOMS doing in fulfilling its mission?
In 2010, four years after its founding, TOMS surpassed the one million mark in shoe donations, and by October of 2011 that number had doubled (check out the 2012 TOMS Giving Report). In April of this year, participants at over 3,000 events in 50 countries and on 275 campuses around the world joined in TOMS’ “One Day Without Shoes” movement to bring awareness to the cause. Fueled by the simplicity and tangible nature of its cause, TOMS has continued to grow in popularity.
Some opponents have pointed out, however, that the shoe drops orchestrated by TOMS do little to solve underlying problems. Free shoes, while solving certain issues in the short-term, fail to benefit the local economy or provide jobs in the long term. This video, based on details from a report by Good Intentions, an organization that provides research to donors on charities, claims that shoe give-aways compete with local markets.
In an article with Women’s Wear Daily, however, Mycoskie acknowledged this problem, stating that TOMS hopes to install a factory in one of the areas it helps, and that a test location has been set up in Ethiopia. The long-term goal is “to have shoes made by the people we are serving.” So while the current model provided by TOMS may have shortcomings, it seems that bigger and better solutions are on the horizon.