Generally, I really like TOMS. On a style level, TOMS happen to be hip. The simple, canvas design has penetrated every city street. The graphics are bold, too – but in a retro, early ‘90s way with a ring of kitschy cool. Somehow, I’ve noticed everybody (from soccer moms to unemployed musicians) sporting the shoes. And I see why – they’re cute, practical, and match most outfits.
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Also, the great thing about TOMS is that you’re not just a consumer. You’re helping in a real way. For each pair of TOMS you purchase, the company donates a pair of shoes to a kid who couldn’t afford shoes otherwise. Originally geared towards kids in Argentina, TOMS now donates shoes to youth in Ethiopia, South Africa, and the USA. Since its founding in 2006, TOMS has given over 300,000 pairs of shoes to kids around the world. It even gave a large, one-time shoe donation to Haitians through the Clinton Global Initiative. In my eyes, this is a good company.
The charitable model of TOMS helps explain the cost: $44-$80 per each pair. Yeah, it’s expensive for basic, canvas slippers. But it’s a small fee for a wonderful service, both in terms of the charity offered and the business model you’re supporting. In many ways, I’m reminded of Adbusters, the culture-jamming, anti-corporate magazine from Vancouver. Perhaps, for some Adbusters readers, companies like TOMS are the lesser evil, forcing us to reconsider the real value of things.
TOMS have become so popular that they’re unavoidable. Inspired by the shoes of Argentine farmers, also known as the “alpargata,” TOMS are light-weight, simple shoes that are perfect for daily strolls. This season, a favorite of mine are their “cordones” (pictured above). True to their social justice roots, the website proclaims that the cordones are “an ode to Argentine writers who bravely stood up for their passions amid the chaos of the civil rights suspension in the mid-nineteenth century.”
But the most memorable of the shoes are the basic TOMS, which are also the most affordable ($44). Like all TOMS shoes, they feature a leather insole and a rubber outsole. If you examine the shoes closely, they also have diagonal stitching across the feet and triangular stitching in the middle of the shoe. It’s this stitching that differentiates TOMS from similar slippers. Though a minor detail, this basic feature, perhaps more so than any design, defines the iconic TOMS look.
In October, TOMS will be offering “tiny TOMS” in nine canvas styles, sizes 1-6, too. TOMS are actually wonderful shoes for kids – easy to slip on and off, and flexible. Combined with the social message – helping kids around the globe – these should be a hit with some families.
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Basically, I like all TOMS shoes, except for the $100 vegan wrap-around boots, which I find to be expensive and not that cute. But everything else gains my seal of approval. In that case, I only have two issues with TOMS.
The first is the fact that the designs are incredibly limited. The shoes all basically look the same. While they do have a strong brand identity – you can always identify a TOMS (or imitation TOMS) shoe – the selection is, basically, the same shoe all over again. So, if you like the design (like I do), good for you. If not, then you’re out of luck.
Secondly, the shoes don’t seem durable. They have a leather insole and the rest is either canvas or rubber. If you want long-lasting, super dependable shoes, then this might not be the way to go. At the end of the day, you are paying up to $80 for canvas slippers. But, if you like TOMS and want to donate money to a worthy cause, then, by all means, go for it. You can look (and feel) good.
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*Update* Just found out about a great site called JustFab that gives you ridiculous prices on top fashion items - check it out!