Sketchy or Sketchers…

By: Alyssa Bluhm and Kelsey Schwartz

TOMS shoes are old news. It’s impossible to step onto a college campus without seeing them on the feet of hippies, hipsters and hippopotamuses alike (at least they can appreciate how the shoes stretch out so much). Everyone knows about the “One for One” mission behind TOMS, and it’s fairly safe to say that the novelty of donating a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair sold has worn off by now.

While TOMS has faded into the background as a staple in scenester footwear, there are still a number of issues related to the company that should be kept in mind the next time you’re in the market for simple shoes with a philanthropic agenda.

One concern that comes to mind while snooping around the TOMS website is the latent motives behind the company. Every page on toms.com has a heavily layered veneer of quotes and pictures reflecting its mission statement, so much that it’s easy to believe that kids in third-world countries actually do get a pair of shoes when Americans dish out half of their paychecks to match the lavish price of these simple shoes.

But why are these “poor” kids wearing better clothes than I am? My college budget doesn’t even leave room for me to buy clothes that match, but the promo videos scattered around the website depict children wearing clothes so new that I begin to feel like I should be the one getting a free pair of shoes.

Giving pretentious American shoes to poorer nations seems to support nothing short of the patronizing ego for which the United States is infamous. I can’t deny how nice it is that shoes protect kids from soil-born illnesses and allow them to attend schools without primitive dress codes, but the way TOMS presents this on their website doesn’t sit right with me. As shown in their promotional footage, TOMS shoes gateway children in underdeveloped nations to participate in activities like skateboarding and giving each other a thumbs-up, just like their American counterparts. It raises this question to me, as it should to everyone else: Is TOMS helping these people by giving them a resource necessary for survival, or is TOMS just unnecessarily forcing American culture upon disadvantaged nations?

If TOMS truly wants to make a lasting difference in the lives of these children, why not manufacture their shoes at the same places they donate them? It may not be as cheap as making them in China, but it would benefit the economies of these nations more in the long run than a one-time gift of free shoes. And eventually the workers in these factories could buy their children, and themselves for that matter, a more durable pair of shoes.

TOMS is unarguably doing a lot more good than most of us, but gaping holes still remain in the motives that move this company. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from making the day of a random kid in Argentina some months down the line, but I am trying to get people to think more about what’s on their feet.

Then again, TOMS could do worse.

Have you ever heard of BOBS? It’s a philanthropic project that Sketchers came up with all on their own, in which for every pair of shoes you buy from the BOBS collection, they will in turn donate one pair of shoes to a child in need. Isn’t that nice of them! I still can’t shake this feeling, though, that I have heard about someone else with his hand in this cookie jar…In fact I think that he might own that cookie jar! Yes, that’s right—TOMS shoes founded by Blake Mycoskie!

TOMS and BOBS are incredibly similar. They both donate one pair of shoes to a child in need when you purchase a pair of shoes from them, their names are each four letters in all caps, and the collections consist of almost exactly the same kind of shoes. So you’re probably asking “What is the difference between the two!? How is one supposed to chose the right shoe and not make the life shattering mistake of selecting the wrong shoe!?” From the surface it’s hard to tell, but when you look deeper the differences become clear and even a bit diabolical.

TOMS was made with a “why” behind it. They have a goal, a reason, a point to their “One for One” campaign. They truly want to help people in need, mainly children, by giving them shoes to protect their feet from what I know only as “foot killing disease,” but don’t rely on my diagnosis since I am not a doctor. In all seriousness though, the TOMS company is built on philanthropic motives.

BOBS on the other hand is not. It is easy to believe a corporation as large as Sketchers when they make a pledge that they will actually follow through, but it’s hard to believe that philanthropy is the only motive. Looking past their charitable façade reveals the truth; their marketing scheme is as self-serving as a buffet line. They must not have had a good marketing director at the time, because even a two year old child would have known that making BOBS almost identical to TOMS would only bring more trouble then profit, and it did. BOBS was ridiculed online so much that Sketchers shut down their link to the BOBS charity information, thus taking away their “why.” Next time they’ll think twice before hiring a marketing intern with an age still in single digits.

It boggles my mind that these huge conglomerated companies don’t care about anything else but money, themselves, and more money. They will use any means possible to get people to purchase their cheap, secondhand ideas. I don’t think that Sketchers did a bad thing by making BOBS; they just didn’t have an honest purpose behind it. All they cared about was that they could make money. They saw TOMS take off, copied everything TOMS did to a T and yet all they ended up with was ridicule and shame. Shame for trying to take advantage of people, and saying that they are doing it out of love. A love that comes from their tiny, plaque-blocked, self-centered, money-obsessed, conglomerate heart!

I challenge you all now to take a second look into the charities you give money to. Some of you will find that they are true and good, while the rest you will only find a tainted copy of something truly philanthropic.