Is TOMS Shoes A Philanthropic Bully?

By junipernelly / / Back in the day (6 years ago), a miniscule, unknown company called TOMS shoes was born. They offered unique simple shoes at an affordable price. The best part about this little company was their mission-driven, one for one business model. For every pair of shoes sold, a pair would be donated to a child in need. I heard about TOMS about a year after its inception thanks to one of my favorite bands that you are about to judge me for, Hanson. Hanson would visit college campuses across the country and challenge students to take “The Walk,” a barefooted one-mile journey across campuses on behalf of TOMS shoes. I immediately bought a pair of burlap sack-esque shoes because they were extremely unique and affordable, it was for a good cause and my teen crush, Taylor Hanson, told me to. My current views on TOMS shoes are similar to that of an underground indie rock band that has recently sold its soul to MTV. TOMS are no longer the unknown indie band I once cherished and loved. They are main stream to the point that my sixteen year old sister knows about them and it is impossible to walk more than five feet in New York City without seeing someone wearing a pair with their high waisted hipster pants, not to mention the annoying TOMS banner ads that plague virtually every webpage I visit. The overall cost of TOMS shoes seems to have spiked along with its rise in fame. TOMS spokes-band Hanson has since been thrown out the window, along with their simple designs that I once loved. The original idea was to create uncomplicated shoes that could be worn and appreciated by businessmen, the working class and children in need. They now offer high heels, boots and ridiculous hot pink glittery monstrosities. TOMS isn’t the only company to utilize and benefit from the mission-driven, one for one business model. I recently came across 4sight, a company dedicated to providing corrective lenses and improving the eyesight of underprivileged and needy citizens around the world. 4sight was created by Ben Midanek, a man that visited South America and East Africa and was shocked when he realized something was missing, no one was wearing glasses. He later learned that 1.3 billion people in the world currently live without the corrective lenses they need to properly see. Similar to Toms, for every pair of 4sight sunglasses sold, a pair of corrective lenses are sent to a person in need. While these two companies share a similar business model, they sell different products and should be able to live in harmony, right? Not quite. Midanek’s recent blog post on the 4sight website titled “Loving My Enemy” stresses his qualms with the launch of TOMS brand new one-for-one sunglasses campaign that launched last month, which is virtually a carbon copy of Miadanek’s idea. For every pair of sunglasses sold, a pair of corrective lenses are sent to someone in need. Ben writes: This competition has one especially interesting wrinkle: I want TOMS to succeed. The more sunglasses they sell, the more people receive the eye-care they desperately need. Blake Mycoskie, the founder and “chief shoe-giver” of TOMS Shoes, echoed this sentiment in a very gracious email he sent me, saying how glad he was “to be a part of the brethren who are working daily to save and restore sight to those in need.” I won’t take anything away from TOMS now or in the future. Instead, I will continue working to offer unique value and to differentiate 4sight from TOMS and other competitors. Although Ben does truly seem to love thy enemy, he does manage to put in a little parting incentive at the end of his post. We can’t match TOMS’ brand recognition, scale, or marketing budget, but 4sight offers better value in many of the most important areas: • Lower Prices: $89 (TOMS – $135-145) • High Quality: Handmade in Italy • Free Shipping & Returns (TOMS charges for both) So what’s your take? Do you think TOMS basically stole 4sights idea? Will you be buying your one for one sunglasses from the quality, main stream giant TOMS, or will you be rooting for 4sight, the Indie rock band-esque underdogs?