They're not quite slippers, and they're not quite sneakers.
They come in different colors, collections, shapes and patterns. When I first saw a pair during my middle school years, I can remember thinking they were just another trend, and would go out of style in a few months – they didn't.
In 2006, when the U.S. recession had begun to loom overhead, both established businesses and budding entrepreneurs struggled to make ends meet.
But one young man named Blake Mycoskie had a vision, despite the bleak economic landscape. A visit to impoverished areas of Argentina revealed that many children lacked shoes and were exposed to health threats and exclusion from school without proper footwear. This interaction essentially founded a philanthropic business powerhouse, and the company has reached extraordinary profit heights over a short decade.
TOMS, a breakthrough company that boasts "social responsibility" through business, has been a raging success throughout stores across the U.S. The modest slip-on shoe has grown to an impressive array of styles—from wedges to flats, and lace to burlap—all in the name of goodwill.
The emergence of new, philanthropic consumerism has increasingly become a part of America's shopping experience. Successful corporations like Starbucks, Whole Foods and TOMS have – very succesfully – added a new aspect of purchasing. Catchy slogans like "Orchestrating a Better Tomorrow" and "Purposeful Prints and Pop: Shoes That Serve a Bigger Purpose Than Just Standing Out" have a very effective way of making a simple purchase seem like a beneficial contribution to society.
My initial distaste for the style of the shoes in middle school eventually faded to general indifference — and when my mom offered to give me a red pair for Christmas, I grappled with indecision. I looked at the tag, and felt a guilty twinge at the high price. But I began to reason with myself — a pair helps go to a good cause; a child could have a pair of shoes with a simple purchase. Besides, the decidedly blasé style could grow on me.
I bought the shoes, and today, after watching them sit in my closet for months, I really wish I hadn't.
Despite the positive encouragement we receive by purchasing shoes for charity or sunglasses for vision services, the core behind the "socially responsible" capitalism may not be as giving as it seems.
At the end of the day, businesses are not people, and a true business model cannot determine an overarching altruistic ideal for a company. People certainly can determine personal charitable causes and contributions; corporations, however, cannot.
For example, TOMS shoes are comprised of a thin sole and a strip of cloth—production costs for a pair of shoes costs roughly $9, but the store price for a pair starts at around $44.
Many advocates lobby that creating a social platform can only promote betterment in society, and can successfully create business with morals. However, as American economists Milton Friedman states, "What does it mean to say that the corporate executive has a 'social responsibility' in his capacity as a businessman? If this statement is not pure rhetoric, it must mean that he is to act in some way that is not in the interest of his employers."
The true nature of business — to make a profit — thereby conflicts with the spirit of untainted philanthropy. True interest in the help of another often requires a sacrifice; businesses such as TOMS, however, seemed to only have reaped nothing but a hefty reward.
Altruism, and promoting philanthropic causes, cannot be diminished as a exceptionally important aspect of America's social landscape. Charities, donations and aid are as important as ever, but basing a company on an emotional appeal — and making a robust profit — seems to exploit a consumer's goodwill and distorts business to look like a giving, open-hearted institution.
People, not businesses, are giving, and people are open-hearted.True philanthropy doesn't require promotion or advertising.
The vision to give children shoes in Argentina is beautiful. But somewhere, between browsing the colorfully collegiate "campus collection" and the lacy, creamy tones of "wedding collection" heels, something essential about the vision faded.
The business's true colors are revealed, and according to the TOMS website, they really do come in every shade.
Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.