TOMS Shoes

Give-back shoe brand



How sustainable is TOMS Shoes?



Fair Labor Association

Tom’s shoes is an American footwear brand that has gained international fame with its one for one campaign, giving away a pair of shoes for every pair sold. The origin story of the founder, who wanted to help kids in Argentina by providing them with a pair of shoes, was not only a social gesture, but also a great marketing campaign that made purchasing a pair of Tom’s an act of charity. This has resulted in skyrocketing sales and the donation of over 95 million pairs of shoes. Although the actual impact of giving away shoes is proven to be insignificant, Tom’s Shoes is a company with a social mission and has always been about helping. What’s more relevant now, is how it performs in terms of transparency and sustainability, which is unfortunately quite poor. The company publishes a yearly impact report, but this report is mostly about what it does to give back. At Fairify, we usually don’t take charities into consideration much, because it’s a fairly easy way for companies to polish their image without actually improving the core of their business. This is the reason why the report that Tom’s Shoes publishes doesn’t provide us with much relevant information about actual corporate sustainability. The company doesn’t provide any information about its carbon footprint and doesn’t publish relevant data on topics like renewable energy, water consumption, transportation emissions or the impact of its packaging. And even though the company does publish a list of materials it uses in its production process, it lacks percentages and certifications, which allow us insight into how sustainable its products truly are. Besides that, when you give back a pair of shoes for every pair you sell, the impact of the production on the environment is doubled as well. There is something to be said for Tom’s Shoes though. The company has been in very bad financial weather and without a proper business model it’s very difficult to improve sustainably. It takes time and money to green up a company and the company has recently dropped the one for one model, replacing it with donating a dollar for every three dollar. This allows them to improve its positive impact and makes the donations more flexible and more efficient. There are targets in place for environmental improvement and Tom’s Shoes mentions that it is its goal to measure its carbon footprint in 2020 and from there on improve it every year. There’s also a target set to expand its use of sustainable cotton, which should be at 100% by 2025, and packaging should be made with at least 80% recycled materials. The deadline for this goal and current percentages are left out. A bright note is that the company does publish a factory list and has a partnership with the Fair Wear Foundation and Elevate, that conduct third-party audits to ensure social standards in the supply chain. The footwear brand also has a partnership with the Leather Working Group and states that it uses 100% of its leather from gold or silver rated LWG leather manufacturers, so in terms of animal products and workers’ rights, the company is doing well. The lack of climate action and transparency concerning the operations of the company is concerning, but Tom’s Shoes shows that it’s rapidly changing for the better. It’s definitely an interesting company with a lot of potential, but for now we’ll have to wait and see whether improvement is truly on its way. We certainly hope so.

Publication date: April 4th 2020
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