Are you wearing shoes today? In high schools and around colleges across the country students are going barefoot to celebrate TOMS Shoes One Day Without Shoes Event. Some call this event A Day Without Dignity.
Last April I weighed in with a view somewhere between the Kool-Aid drinkers and the stone throwers with my post The Problem with TOMS Shoes and Its Critics. The post has led to one of the best discussions ever on my blog.
Unfortunately half of those comments are summed up as such, “Oh yeah! Well, you’re a stupid pants jealous of Blake Mycoskie. What have you ever done?” I suppose a stupid pants is the opposite of a smarty pants. I just made up the term. No one actually called me that. At least I don’t thin they did. It’s hard to keep track; I was called so many things, which brings us to the first thing I’ve learned…
1) I don’t want to be Blake Mycoskie.
I like being Kelsey Timmerman just fine, thank you very much. That said, Blake is a nice guy who, as I mention in the post, I’ve been lucky enough to meet. It’s just that Blake isn’t married to Annie Timmerman (who can do ninja flips) and he doesn’t have Harper and Griffin as kids and Oreo the Cat as a cat. He doesn’t have a stay-at-home family. He doesn’t live in the Midwest. He doesn’t get to work as a banana worker in Costa Rica. He isn’t blessed to have people around the world tell him their stories and then get to share those stories. (Actually, I suppose he gets to do that last one a bit.) I don’t want to have a business with employees, sales reports, and meetings. Anyhow, I love being me.
2) We need to question good intents just as much as we do bad ones.
I believe that TOMS does some good. I believe that they could and should do more good. And that instead of just being a typical shoe company until the very end where they give away a pair (some question how good this actually is), they could also manufacture in a way that does good at the very start. I feel like I’m less of a critic of TOMS than I am a cheerleader.
Back in my basketball playing days, my dad was my biggest fan. If I scored 20 points and dished out 10 assists, he would still point out that one stupid turnover, or that one missed free throw on the front end of a one-in-one, or the way I reacted to that one call. No matter how good I did, Dad wanted me to do better. That’s how I feel about TOMS.
I want TOMS to do better.
They’ve earned so much goodwill and have so much potential to be a shoe company like no other, and they could use that goodwill to lead the way in manufacturing in a way that provides people with great jobs and hope.
The adventures meeting garment workers that I documented in my book WHERE AM I WEARING? and the new adventures with my new project WHERE AM I EATING? have helped me realize how important a good jobs is – a job that allows you to send your kids to school is everything.
3) We long for our things to have stories even if we fill in the blanks of those stories.
I want TOMS to do better, but more than that I want their fans to do better. I’ve met so many raving TOMS fans that have no idea where TOMS are made. All they know is that a pair was given away somewhere – probably Africa – because they bought a pair. And that’s enough for them to feel swell about their shoes.
Perhaps the beauty of the one-for-one model is its simplicity. We take the nugget of a story that can be printed on a shoebox and we make up our own story. Everyone who wears TOMS should look at where they are given and how they are given. I’m not saying they should look into this in order to find flaws or to criticize, but because if you are going to champion something, you should know something about it.
A lot of TOMS success can be contributed to that they sell shoes – and now glasses – with a story. It’s a short story, unless we dig through their site, but it is a story. So many of our things don’t have a story, or at least one we know about. In a landscape of story-less shoes, TOMS helps us connect with the world.