Buy One, Give A Damn


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Esther Havens, TOMS, Product RED, Mark Falkenstien
13 Monday 13th June 2011

TOMS Shoes + Element
TOMS Shoes x Element 'Skate Africa' Campaign

Leading the way in this 'one for you, one for them' market is American shoe company TOMS. Their ethos is pretty simple: for every pair of trainers or shoes they sell, they donate another pair to a person (usually a child, it turns out) in need. The general qualification for that is a child who typically goes without shoes every day, and could be putting themselves at risk of infection or illness by going barefoot. Founder Blake Mycoskie and his team then fly out to different parts of the world and donate shoes to specific communities in partnership with local NGOs and other nice-sounding people. So far the model has allowed them to give away a million pairs since 2006 but raises the question of the recently blurred lines between fashion marketing and charity work.

Children in South Africa with their new TOMS shoes

While their optimistic approach to solving public health problems in various countries is energetic and commendable, there's also something kinda uncomfortable about TOMS logos sprayed all over their humanitarian efforts. It's a bit of an awkward situation to have a financial bottom line and profit-driven model rubbing shoulders with the normally non-profit and philanthropic aid strategies. Funnily enough though, this seems to be working pretty darn well for companies out to increase their brand presence, sell more product and spread the word about the cause they back.

TOMS glasses strategy

TOMS have recently expanded their remit into the world of glasses and vision in an attempt to tackle another of the world's global issues. The same dynamic works as with shoes: someone in America buys some glasses, and someone in Nepal or Haiti gets an eye-check and some glasses if they need them. Consumers who walk around wearing the product can then get to indulge in that addictive feel-good factor that comes with giving aid.

Really, it's a lot to do with how that makes you feel as a person, in as much as it's linked to your passion for a cause. It sort of brings a harrowing issue to your doorstep, pretties it up in some nice packaging and makes it easier for people to do good with the least amount of effort. In a sense, it's genius because buyers eliminate that weird guilt dynamic that haunts the charity fundraiser by getting a little something for themselves too. It's smiley, likeable and inherently selfish giving.

Product (RED) for Gap Jeans: buy one, give half

Companies like TOMS, and those linked to the (RED) initiative are at the end of the day using their commercial power to help people accumulate things and aid others in the process. It's sort of an odd coupling of bedfellows, but ain't all bad either. What do you all think?

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