TOMS Responds to Critics With “Model” Behavior
While TOMS was once the darling of the social impact world, bashing the brand has become ubiquitous and de rigueur. The greatest issue has been around the company's disruption of local markets by importing shoes to less-developed countries. It's not criticism without merit -- assessing the challenges of TOMS' business model when one looks past the adorable, happy kids with new kicks is worthy of discussion.
But let's pause and look at the positives. This week, TOMS announced a plan to manufacture one-third of its shoes in donation countries by 2015. According to founder Blake Mycoskie, "Some of the criticism we've had is that we're not using our company to create jobs…and I think that it's a fair criticism." What few people know is that TOMS has tried to manufacture in some of these countries before. It's easy for critics to throw stones, but implementation can take years to get right, and underdeveloped infrastructures are a huge obstacle. TOMS' new commitment expands the company's mission to include economic development (the number one issue global consumers are looking to companies to address), and will likely require additional investment in manufacturing capacity in some of these markets. Not only a major shift in company operations, this latest commitment provides two important insights for social impact practitioners to consider: