By now we’ve all heard of Tom’s, the famous do-good shoe brand that was founded on the one-for-one business model. Since we first met ‘Tom’ (actually, the Founder’s name is Blake) and his socially conscious, iconic slip-ons, we’ve watched the brand expand to an extensive line of footwear, apparel, eyewear, and accessories. But have you ever stopped to think about the message that the ‘buy one-give one’ business model is really implying?

Photo source: www.theblaze.com

Tom’s founder, Blake Mycoskie. Photo source: www.theblaze.com


If you push past the good feels that come along with the idea of a child in need receiving a new pair of shoes, you begin to realize that we’re being conditioned to view consumption as a solution to a problem, when in reality it is the cause of the problem. In the end, we’re still buying a product that isn’t durable and will quickly be replaced, perpetuating the cycle of rapid consumption. The shoes we buy on this side of the Tom’s story will be worn for one or two seasons before ending up in a landfill. Not to mention the implications of giving a flimsy pair of canvas shoes to children who walk long distances on rough terrain, and then leaving them with no potential for a long-term solution.

Tom’s, a for-profit privately owned company (not a charity as they might wish us to believe), has tapped into the conscience that exists in all of us, but is not providing sustainable options for communities in need. Their low price points, trendy styles, and feel-good marketing leads to the continuation of a dangerous cycle, rather than addressing the issue at hand: rapid and massive consumption of cheaply produced, low value goods perpetuates massive poverty rates, human rights violations, and environmental degradation.

While Tom’s has set themselves apart from fast fashion companies with their stance on social consciousness, they are still playing an important role in the system of massive consumption. At the end of the day the message is the same: CONSUME, CONSUME, CONSUME! We need to change the system, rather than trying to fix it from within.

We're bombarded by images of consumption in relation to good causes, and are conditioned to think that consuming can be a solution.

We’re bombarded by images of commercial goods in relation to charitable causes, and are conditioned to think that consumption can be a solution. In reality, our consumption rates are the root of the problem, not a solution.

Of course if you’re buying new shoes, I support buying from a company that is socially conscious like Tom’s. It’s hard to knock a brand that has done good for so many people. But more importantly, I advocate for us, the consumers, to take a step back and analyze the messages we’re being fed through the marketing and advertising of ‘giving back’. Consuming shouldn’t be the way we give back to humanity, so slip on your Tom’s and get out and volunteer! If you’re in NYC, check out New York Cares for a long list of volunteer opportunities.



  1. Rachel

    Not to mention that it’s more economically sustainable to boost local vendors and craftsmen that make shoes in the community than to fly in free shoes. You aren’t fueling any local economy by giving for free what could be made locally!

    1. abby@aconsciousconsumer.com

      That’s such an important point! Tom’s has responded to this criticism by promising to have 1/3 of their products that are donated produced by local vendors in Haiti. It’s a good step, but 1/3 is not enough in my opinion!


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