We’ve all been there, you’re cruising for a new pair of shoes, something that will get you from point A to point B in as cute and comfortable a way as possible. And as a vegan, not only are the choices narrower because we abstain from wearing skin and fur, we also tend to care about the lives of the people who make our shoes, and they often work in sweatshops.
So you pick up a pair of TOMS Classics and inspect them, cautious because you know all too well that we live in the era of blatantly superficial attempts at ‘corporate social responsibility’. Their message is so sweet it almost makes your teeth hurt, and you read their FAQs and you’re thinking “Finally! A shoe I at least won’t have nightmares about!” You use your vegan laser vision to examine the shoe for any animal products and it’s looking good.
Until…the leather insole.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Like many businesses, TOMS has vegan options for their Classics line. But do any of the stores in my neighbourhood carry them? Nope. Because most people don’t care about their heel touching what was once an individual. So they just carry the “normal” TOMS, that are generally less expensive than the vegan options. Vegan options are offered as a way to placate vegans, similar to the way that eccentric Aunt is appeased at Christmas when she wants to perform ‘Silent Night’ on her recorder. Tolerated because she means well, but not taken seriously. Now, I don’t need to tell you that 10 billion animals being needlessly killed each year is no recorder solo, and yet here we are– treated like overly sensitive, sentimental weirdos whose idealism (and loud voices and spending power) beckon them to offer “vegan options”.
Don’t get me wrong about the importance of vegan options. Ask anyone who has been vegan for a decade or two, and they’ll tell you what living through the Dark Ages was like (prior to many of the tastiest alternatives). Vegan options mean we are less alienated, they offer convenience when we need it, and they’re good outreach tools, as non-vegans see that they could still eat at their favourite restaurants with their favourite people, as a vegan.
TOMS says that they “use earth and animal-friendly materials wherever possible”. OK TOMcat, no offense, but that is a crock. Why exactly is it not “possible” for all TOMS Classics to opt for the animal-free insole, as it does with the vegan shoe? The rest of the shoe is already vegan! And don’t even get me started on your other shoes. It’s 2012! Animal-friendly materials are abundant. There is simply no excuse.
I’m not trying to wage a war on TOMS, and I apologize if it appears that way. From what I observe, I think their model and message is decent, and their commitment to improving the quality of life for people is promising (even if it’s still ultimately a business motivated by profit). You’ve gotta have shoes, right? And while I can’t speak for everyone, I myself am quite tired of always buying second-hand shoes from thrift stores. And as much as I wish it were so, I don’t always have the money to buy shoes from entirely vegan companies (though I love Nice Shoes and Moo Shoes!)
I doubt very much that your non-vegan clientele would care about having an insole that happens to be vegan. But I bet many would-be clients are turned off by your having an insole made of pig skin. It’s simple veganomics! Lots of people don’t like wearing pigs on their feet (or anywhere else on their body for that matter) and they won’t buy your shoes because of it.
So what I want to know is why, TOMS? Why go to the trouble of making a 98% human-made shoe, and then add something as stupid as “classic suede” to it? Oh, yes, classic suede. Gotta love when they take the otherwise unusable skin from animals (in this case, pigs) at slaughterhouses and turn it into an unnecessary textile for humans to walk around in. Classssic.
You’re not fooling anyone by placating the vegans, least of all, the vegans. Sure, we may eat the Veggie Burger at Burger King, but we haven’t magically forgotten that the other 99% of the menu contains our dear animal friends. You’re not doing us a ‘favour’ by giving people a humane option (in this case, tolerating demands for compassionate shoes). Vegans want for animals to not be used that way by anyone, not just other vegans.
Nothing chaps my ass more than a company taking a product that is so close to getting a passing grade in the ethics department and then slapping some poor animal’s skin on it and calling it a day.
Shut. It. Down. Go all the way, TOMS. You’re so close already! We’ll even accept baby steps! Start with your Classics, then another line, then another line, and by that point the entire world will have come to it’s senses and will already be vegan and you’ll be so thankful some mouthy little blogger steered you in the right direction.