September 11, 2009

Are TOMS Shoes made in Third World, in uncertified fair labor factories? Hope not.

Is TOMS—my + elephant’s favorite socially-responsible shoe—walking its talk?

TOMS’ One-for-One business concept has inspired dozens of mindful companies. And I love the style.

I’m just not sure about the follow-through.

TOMS‘ latest design is, like all TOMS, made (painfully, ironically) in non-certified fair labor third world countries, according to our sources. Are the rumors accurate? It’s hard to believe that TOMS, which donates shoes to poor shoeless children in…third world countries…would be so hypocritical. So, for now, we’ll hope for the best and keep an open mind.

Other than these open questions…we continue to loooove this official hipster shoe. I own two pairs, and love ’em.

Other questions I have about TOMS: are the glues mostly toxic, and why do the shoes fall apart kinda quick (not very eco-responsible?!), and why are many of the liners made of leather, when their vegan-soled shoes are just as comfortable? And though it’s one for one, they’re just giving a basic, super-cheap model to the third world kidsies, certainly nothing that costs what you’re paying for the shoes (I paid $55 each for each of my last two pairs, which I loved and wore the hell out of, a couple days a week. One of ’em has indeed almost completely fallen apart, only six months later).

At the Eco Gift conference a few years back, at which Blake and I were presenters (I also hosted a mini-version of our Walk the Talk Show out there, interviewing Mallika Chopra, Max Simon, Rainbeau Mars, others) I asked Blake why they didn’t make eco-responsible shoes. He referenced TOMS’ line for Whole Foods, which while awesome and stylish and “green,” accounts for maybe 2% of their total sales.

Why don’t I, or any of we green new media journalist have more facts? TOMS is privately held. That said, they’re good people doing good work, and I look forward to hearing more facts and updating this open letter/article.

Charismatic founder Blake Mycoskie and TOMS deserves a great deal of love and credit: Blake has brought the get/give model (pioneered, perhaps, by Paul Newman) some wonderful mainstream business attention (though Crocs, which everyone loves to hate, has given away at least 10x more shoes) and inspired eco entrepreneurs everywhere.

Just hope Blake and Co. can continue to raise the bar that they’ve set so high.

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