TOMS: selling their soul to sell their insoles

13 Apr

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.

The subject of our latest rant: the TOMS Classic.

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.

So, vegan options: undeniably important, but not a get-out-of-jail-free card for the companies that offer them!

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.

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27 Responses to “TOMS: selling their soul to sell their insoles”

  1. Sarah Morley April 13, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Fantastic! You’ve no idea how much of a lift it give me to hear someone talking sense in this world. Was only just today pondering about how lonely and isolating it can sometimes feel when it seems everyone else has a different viewpoint (or, usually, no viewpoint at all) to ones own. Hooray for you!!

    • The Veganomaly April 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

      Thanks Sarah! Your comment gave ME a lift! :)

    • tdanc July 3, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

      Yeah!! I agree, great post. I was considering wearing Tom´s mens shoes and have changed my mind as see no vegan options. Thanks for informing!!

  2. cori April 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Vegan Toms are available in Whole Foods stores in Dallas. Just sayin.

    • The Veganomaly April 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

      That’s wonderful! I love ‘vegan options’. As the article said though, they shouldn’t be treated like a victory, only a step towards a truly empathetic world.

  3. Katie Gibbs - Not Your Parents' Granola April 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Agreed. I got really excited about a pair of TOMS red wedges that I thought were vegan but then realized they have the suede insoles. I asked them about it on Twitter and never heard back.

    • The Veganomaly April 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      Good for you for at least asking though! There will come a point when companies won’t be able to simply ignore those kinds of legitimate questions…

  4. Rachelann April 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    Yes! Yes! I never understood why they had to put leather in them. My mom has the “classic” ones and I have the vegan ones (the price difference was so annoying) but I was inspecting them and the leather it LITERALLY a milimetre or two thick on top of foam for the vegan ones it’s just the foam. I don’t get it and I also can’t afford them ( my mother mercifully took pity on my broke ass a bought them for me). So for now I will cry as my feet are blistered up and my ethics are torn in two while wearing my walmart shoes (i’m so ashamed).

    • The Veganomaly April 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

      HAHA, Rach– I thought of you a lot while writing this. I know what you mean about your ethics…I need flats that aren’t second hand, and while at Zellers picking out a set of enviro-friendly pots and pans, I came across the TOMS knock offs and though “Dammit”. There’s no easy solution, unless of course everyone makes so much money that they don’t have to buy things made in developing countries with poor labour standards…

  5. Abigail April 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Thank you for writing what I think to myself every time I walk past TOMS shoes. I can’t even fathom why they bother with animal insoles. Go vegan, TOMS!

    • The Veganomaly April 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

      Thank YOU for reading, and commenting! XO

  6. Tashina Combs (@logicalharmony) April 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    I completely agree. I’d have so many pairs of Tom’s right now, if the colors I liked had an animal friendly insole. Because of that, I don’t have any. I’d love to give the company my money because of their other efforts, but I just can’t move past the leather insole. It’s not worth it. If they are truly interested in helping out others, they should make all their shoes items that everyone can buy. Afterall, it would help more people and isn’t that suppossed to be their bottom line?

    • The Veganomaly April 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      I agree, it is just bad business to alienate a segment of the population that recognizes leather as unethical. Here’s hoping they wake up and smell the…vegans?

      • Tashina Combs (@logicalharmony) April 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

        Ha! I hope so!! :)

      • stephanie January 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

        no because there are more people who want leather insoles… the shoes arent meant to be vegan. They are meant to help out children and people without shoes….you buy a pair and a pair is given to someone in need. That is how they got popular anyway.

  7. leatherlover April 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Well I guess that leaves more Toms for the rest of us! Have you ever heard of online shopping, maybe you could order your precious TOMS shoes there?

    • The Veganomaly April 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      Wow, for someone to be that committed to a company (versus my commitment to billions of ACTUAL individuals), I assume you must be employed by them…perhaps you are their loyal mascot? I hope they pay you well, probably in limited edition TOMS.

      As for this “online shopping” thing, it sounds magical, but I’m kind of confused…for example: which computer slot do I stick my credit card in? And where does the cashier stand? Who will ask me how my day is going?

  8. vegansweetie April 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    Damn damn damn those leather insoles!! It erks me that they’re hidden in there all inconspicuously! …. And what the hell is a ‘Leatherlover’?? Sounds dirty… but not in the fun way.

  9. Kathryn May 8, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    This is unrelated to the leather aspect of TOMS, but its actually interesting to question the effectivity of the actual “Donating to a child in need” part of TOMS. I say this because handouts themselves can actually create poverty. If you think about the way a market is structured, say you have three shoemakers/sellers in three local communities. TOMS decides to give free shoes to every child in the area, and so all of the shoemakers go out of business. This means that when the TOMS shoes wear out, there is no one to buy shoes from for the kids, and therefore the kids are actually more likely to be shoe-less after TOMS arrives than before, which I doubt they discuss in their business plan.

  10. austin May 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    i bought these shoes because my friend does some really awesome artwork and i wanted a clean canvas shoe for him to draw on. he says he usually does toms as they are 100% canvas and you can draw anywhere.

    when i went to the mall to pick up a pair i noticed the insole. i asked the sales woman if they were leather! “no! of course not! these are organic shoes and they donate a pair to africa!” i wasn’t sold, so i looked on the shoe for a list of material, nothing. i asked my friend and he said, “leather is more expensive, if the shoes are $45 and they give a pair to someone in need it’s gotta be at least half the cost. plus their profit margin. those are really like $10 shoes. no way they’re leather.” that rational seemed to put me at ease.

    it wasn’t until i was showing off my new shoes at work that one of my vegan friends commented that she didn’t know they made non-leather shoes. alarms went off in my head and i had to check the internet. f******** leather!!!!! jerks!!!!!!! i love my shoes, my friend spent a lot of time on them. i don’t want to just throw them away but i feel like such a hypocrite. i think it’d be difficult to just replace the insole. i already supported their company.

    how can you be like “save the world” blah blah blah… and support such a horrible industry? the vegan option, btw is more expensive for some reason. they also have really lame patterns on them. toms suck. i’m never buying again.

  11. Shannon May 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I agree completely with this article! It’s so ridiculous, especially since no one will even SEE the insole!

    However, out of curiosity… I thought BK’s veggie burger was only vegetarian, because it has eggs & casein. Vegans wouldn’t eat that, right? :\

    • The Veganomaly May 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

      Not as far as I know! Sol Cuisine does the veggie patties for Burger King in my neck of the woods!

  12. Karen August 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    I just posted the following on their wall and am e-mailing it to them as well. Also I FREAKING LOVE YOU! :P

    “I love your shoes and your message! At least I did until I found out the insoles are made of pig skin. I know you have a vegan option but why ruin what could have been an amazing vegan shoe by putting the skin of what was once a beautiful, loving creature inside of it? Those who aren’t vegan could care less what the insole is and those who are vegan will be emptying the shelves at their local shoe stores to buy your products! As it stands I will no longer be buying Toms products until you’re 100% vegan and will instead purchase the Toms knocks offs by Soda which are 100% man made. Please stop using animal prodcuts so I can support and love your products and company the way I and so many other vegans want to!!!”

    • Karen August 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      Just received a reply:

      “Hi Karen,

      Thank you for your concern for TOMS. For the vast majority of our customers, the leather insole adds value to their shoes (its durable, breathable and comfortable). TOMS offers many Vegan options and we plan to incorporate more Vegan styles in the future for our customers. We appreciate your support for the One for One movement.

      Thank You,
      Trisha W

      US Phone : 800-975-8667
      CAN Phone: 800-975-8667
      UK Phone : 00+1-310-566-3170″

  13. stephanie January 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I think that Toms shoes have leather insoles so that people can wear then without socks. They wont just fall apart on the inside or stink for that matter. People who cant afford shoes certainly dont wear socks…

  14. Helen April 20, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    I am vegan and I agree completely with this post. TOMS should go completely vegan – I really don’t think their non-vegan customers would miss the leather insoles. I have the vegan TOMS and although I have never worn the non-vegan TOMS, I can say that the vegan version is totally comfortable and doesn’t leave your feet stinky. It is totally fine! However, I don’t think that we should boycott TOMS just because they are not 100% eithical. Let’s face it, what for-profit company is? At least TOMS is trying to help shoeless kids and they recognize the vegans. Let’s show TOMS that we are here to stay and we have purchasing power! Let them see that they can make a profit with vegan shoes and they will make more. By boycotting TOMS, you could run the risk of discouraging TOMS from making more vegan options, which is NOT a win for vegans at all. We should continue to write to TOMS asking for more vegan options and not threatening to boycott them – by doing that, you just seem like an angry vegan and not helping the cause. Save the boycott for companies that have no souls like all the other leather companies who don’t even bother to recognize vegans at all. Show TOMS that you support their vegan shoes and you want more!

  15. rawdood June 30, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Vegans should not eat at burger king. In fact, paleo foodies wouldn’t even eat there. Anyone even semi-conscious about their ecological and social impact would SHUDDER at the thought. Your message loses much of its strength once you say that vegans eat the veggie burger there. A bit of a hypocrite don’t you think?

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