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The trouble with TOMS

Concordia students frequently do great charitable work for the campus community, the Fargo-Moorhead area, and the world, but one philanthropic trend on campus that I don’t understand is the TOMS shoes fixation. Concordia has had a “TOMS @ Concordia” club since the fall of 2009, and besides promoting TOMS shoes, they also hold events like “One Day Without Shoes” and “Style Your Sole.” While there are several people I truly respect and admire that support TOMS, I have some trouble with the organization.

TOMS shoes is the quintessential example of a charitable organization that allows people to feel as though we are truly helping others less fortunate, while actually creating enormous revenue for a for-profit business, or ahem, a “for-profit company with giving at its core” that creates “thousands of customer-philanthropists” according to the TOMS Web site.

What does being a customer have to do with philanthropy, you ask? As noted in the Nov. 4 TOMS article by Kristina Loken, TOMS has a “one-for-one” business model—you buy a pair of shoes for $44-$98, and a child in need gets a pair from TOMS, too. I completely agree that children in developing countries need shoes to prevent injury and disease, as well as provide some comfort when walking distances to school or just to obtain clean water. However, I also think that charities should be as efficient as possible in order to help as many people as possible, and non-profit organizations do much more for the world than one-for-one organizations like TOMS. While you might think that this one-for-one model is the only model that will efficiently work in our materialistic culture and capitalist system, you would be wrong.

TOMS revenues have totaled over $5 million since its launch in 2006 according to the most recent information I could find—a Jan. 2009 BusinessWeek article. Imagine if all of that money went to children in developing countries. Imagine how many pairs of shoes, especially ones made of canvas, like most TOMS shoes, you could provide for children if every dollar of your TOMS purchase was spent on shoes for others and not a pair for yourself to promote your do-gooder status to the world. Imagine how many pairs of shoes you could provide for children if you just donated every pair you ever outgrew or no longer wear? I suggest that Cobbers thoroughly research charitable organizations before committing themselves to their causes. Instead of TOMS, consider a truly charitable organization like Soles for Souls ( -notice the .org extension for a non-profit organization, rather than the .com for commercial).

Soles for Souls collects gently used shoes from donors and new shoes from leftover stock in shoe warehouses, and gives all shoes and all funds received to children in need. TOMS shoes recently celebrated giving one million pairs of shoes to kids in 24 countries (and selling another million pairs to our consumer culture). Soles for Souls, only one year older than TOMS, has given over 12 million pairs of shoes and is currently donating a pair every seven seconds to children in over 130 countries. Which is more effective?

There are a few permanent Soles for Souls drop-off locations in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Go to the Web site listed above to type in your zip code, and gather up your old shoes to bring over. You’re not buying a pair for yourself, but the good feeling you’ll get in return is more than enough.

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