“I had a very simple idea with a desire to help,” Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, told the TOMS employees in what appears to be a garage in Santa Monica.
That desire started with giving a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair purchased form TOMS. I’ve offered up my thoughts on TOMS shoes before – shoelessness isn’t the problem, poverty is – and now I thought I would examine the next venture in the TOMS business, which was revealed on Tuesday…glasses.
“With every pair purchased,” he said. “TOMS will help give sight to a person in need. One-for-One…from this day forward TOMS isn’t a shoe company, it isn’t an eyewear company, it is the one-for-one company.”
Good for TOMS
My initial thought was, “Good for TOMS.”
Like Blake, I’ve seen my fair share of folks with vision problems while I traveled around the developing world. Sometimes a simple cataract surgery can be the difference between blindness and being unemployed. Helping someone see can help them become educated or get a job to support their family. Otherwise they are disabled in a world that really isn’t very nice to someone with special needs. (There are not crosswalk beepers in Bangladesh. There aren’t even any crosswalks. Crossing the street with unimpaired vision is dangerous enough.)
The cause is worthy and, in my opinion, more impactful than a pair of shoes. And the need is there. Over 500 million people around the world need vision correction, but have no access to it. Unlike shoes, prescription glasses or the services of an ophthalmologist can’t be found just around the corner in a lot of places and, if they can, those living on less than $2 per day likely cannot afford either.
TOMS isn’t the first company to tackle vision issues in the developing world with the one-for-one model. Warby Parker sells $95 prescription glasses and promises, “Buy a pair, give a pair: for every pair of glasses sold, we provide one to someone in need.”
Wow, that sounds familiar. Blake has championed the one-for-one movement for a few years now and encouraged other companies to follow suit. Warby Parker was obviously inspired by TOMS and now their inspiration has become their competition.
TOMS non-prescription sunglasses cost $135, which makes the Warby Parkers much more affordable for customers. But this begs the question, if I buy a pair of TOMS glasses for $135 or a pair of Warby Parkers for $95, which purchase does the most good?
The one-for-one fog
No one knows. This is the heart of problem of the one-for-one model: no transparency. These are privately owned companies and they don’t have to open their books like not-for-profits do. For all I know, the amount of “good” my purchase does, might not be any “gooder” than adding $1 onto my purchase at PetSmart when I buy kitty litter for Oreo. In dollars and cents one-for-one could equal 1 for .1.
I would love to see TOMS, Warby Parker, and any other one-for-one companies tell their customers how much of their purchase will go to the cause that they are using to market their products.
What does it cost to put prescription glasses on someone on the other side of the world? Joshua Silver invented a pair of self-adjusted eyeglasses (he adjusts them to fit his prescription in a few seconds in the Ted talk below) that cost $19.
So yes, vision is a major problem that needs addressed. But until companies like TOMS who are using the cause to sell their products, become more transparent, we won’t see how much good they are doing.
The biggest problem with TOMS glasses
Max Headroom called…he wants his shades back.