Tom and his shoes

This week I was introduced to an american project that I’d never heard of.  Its called Toms Shoes.  Tom is really called Blake and the idea is very simple.  For every pair of ‘Toms shoes’ that Blake sells, a pair of shoes is given to a kid in e.g. Afghanistan who is in need of a pair of shoes.  It seems this simple idea has taken off and today over 680,000 pairs of shoes have been given away to kids who need them.  Blake (who has long hair because a stranger in an airport told him to grow it) is an entrepreneur and he says that this ‘one for one’ scheme has been the most effective marketing ploy he’s ever used.  He is providing the public a chance to be part of a ‘good cause’ providing poor kids with shoes and it seems the public like this idea.  Infact Blake and the pastor interviewing him encourages us to go out right now and buy a pair of ‘Toms Shoes’ and every time we look down at our feet we can remember that we have given a child in Afghanistan a pair of shoes.

But here’s the thing, if I buy a pair of ‘Toms Shoes’ and I look down at my feet the only thing I can HONESTLY tell myself is “well done for spending 40-70 euro on a pair of shoes for yourself which you probably don’t need.”  By buying ‘Toms Shoes’ I have NOT GIVEN anything! I have merely CONSUMED yet again.

I don’t mean to say that it is a wrong idea for blake to provide a pair of shoes for everyone sold.  That is up to him.  But DON”T try and tell me that if I consume his product I can pat myself on the back for being generous.  Generous would be to buy a pair of ‘Toms Shoes’ and carry them to Afghanistan and put them on the feet of a child.

Blake was asked in the interview why he didn’t just take the capital he invested into the business in the first place and use it to make shoes for poor kids.  His answer was that by making a for-profit business out of it he has been able to provide thousands more children with shoes.  This was considered by him and seemingly by everyone around me listening to be a great point.  But as I listened I couldn’t help but ask the question ‘has God called us to be people who are generous and kind to the poor, or has he called us to be people who fix the problems (or what we percieve as their problems) of the poor’.  If we think it’s the latter we end up being satisfied with a strategy that allows people to try and combat poverty with consumerism.  Something is deeply wrong with this.

My favourite part of this story is that the children who receive these free shoes are probably related to if not themselves the makers of these shoes.  All ‘Toms Shoes’ are currently produced in Afghanistan and China (according to the website they are receiving a fair wage though).  We are using poverty to attempt to solve poverty.  We the Church need to understand that there is no excuse for such behaviour.

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6 Comments on “Tom and his shoes”

  1. PatrickM Says:

    great post – when they come they are worth waiting for 🙂 If you haven’t already seen this, worth having a look at this on capitalism with an increasingly ethical face using the example of Starbucks … I think Kevin originally linked to it.

  2. WhyNotSmile Says:

    Excellent post. I had fairly similar thoughts when I first heard about Toms. Not that it’s a bad idea, in that (I guess) it’s better that they give something away than keep all the money themselves, but it’s a long way short of what the Gospel calls us to.

  3. transfarmer Says:

    It seems Slavoj Zizek said it all before and much better, Toms Shoes even gets a specific mention… if you haven’t checked out Patricks link above you should definitely do so…

  4. PatrickM Says:

    well it just shows great minds think alike …

  5. canalways Says:

    this is an interesting topic because there are lots of issues coming into play and you hear lots of companies being ethical these days.
    In B&Q they made a big deal of how by shopping at there you were actually helping the planet and had the slogan ‘One Planet Home’

    But at the same time they are driven by the need to increase profits year on year, and to grow bigger and bigger. And that would surely mean getting customers to buy more and more, to consume more and more which would destroy the planet even more.

  6. […] fix’ was either a T-shirt (£15 registration fee) OR wait for it… a pair of Tom’s (don’t get me started) shoes (£35 registration […]

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