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One for One Makes Consumers Feel Like Philanthropists

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday October 20th, 2011 | 4 Comments


We have teamed up with Abbott to produce an article series on the future of corporate philanthropy.  Please read the rest of the series here.

In 2006, Blake Mycoskie started as a shoe company. He also started a movement. Well, at the very least, he trademarked a movement: One for OneTM.

Having witnessed extreme poverty during a trip to Argentina, Mycoskie was inspired to start a footwear company in which, for each pair of  shoes sold, he’d donate a new pair to a child who, like so many he met in Argentina, is in dire need of shoes. TOMS was born.

By September of 2010, TOMS had given more than one million new pairs of shoes to kids in need around the world and had pushed “one for one,” (sometimes also called “buy one, give one” or BOGO) into the lexicon of socially-progressive entrepreneurs — and consumers.

Today, you can buy one pair of rain boots and give one, you can buy one backpack and give one. You can even…uh, buy a pair of shoes exactly like TOMS, but called (no kidding) BOBS, and made by (no kidding) Skechers, and give one (for $2 less than TOMS, thank you).

With TOMS eyewear, which the company launched this year, one pair of purchased sunglasses doesn’t necessarily equate one pair of prescription glasses for someone in need in a remote land, but it does add to the eye treatment, glasses and eye surgery that’s enabled through TOMS’ “Sight Giving Partners.”

But competitor Warby Parker built its eyeglass company on the true one for one foundation that TOMS laid. For each pair of $95 (Rx glasses or sunglasses) it sells, Warby Parker partners with NGOs to give a person in need a pair of glasses. Plus, as you’ll learn in this great BBMG Green Room interview, it’s looking to make a run against the $16 billion eyewear monopoly market.

There’s another important difference between the TOMS and Warby Parker approaches to addressing global vision needs. As 3p’s Raz Godelnik pointed out last month, Warby Parker is attempting to grow not only its business, but businesses in the areas of the world where it’s trying to improve vision. To do this, it’s working to foster entrepreneurs and establish eye clinics in the countries where its NGO partners work (Latin America, Africa, South Asia).

It seems like social entrepreneurs that take this more integrative approach, rather than merely giving material hand-outs to those in need, should have more currency with consumers. But will they? Certainly, the bar is higher with the more integrative approach. It requires a company to be two things at once — a business-to-consumer (B to C) and a business-to-business (B to B) outfit.

And, beyond that, consumers might not care whether the one for one companies they buy from are going as deep as Warby Parker, or if they’re just providing handouts (of shoes, of backpacks, of whatever) in their name.

Buying a pair of TOMS makes a consumer feel like a philanthropist. At the end of the day, that’s what really attracts consumers to one for one products. The impact those donated shoes, or the donated whatevers, has or doesn’t have on a impoverished community thousands of miles away won’t likely come into question.

So, this begs the question: what one-for-one business model is going to have the biggest impact?

You might look to Warby Parker and see tremendous potential for building a business while also taking a real punch at poverty, since by giving sight to those who would otherwise not have glasses, they’re also enabling them to do tasks they couldn’t otherwise do. That will lead to being able to work, or to read, and to grow their communities. But on the other hand, Skechers is a $2 billion company that could probably put a nice chunk of the developing world in shoes if it really embraced the one for one model (which it won’t, beyond this little BOBS line, but just dream it with me, here). Such a move could make for a whole lot of consumer-philanthropists.

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  • Deborah

    I was just in Cambodia at a school about 3 hours from Siem Reip. Most of the kids there go barefoot, so their feet are wider. The NGO I was visiting is working to give the kids shoes and clothing to attend school and mentioned that the TOMS shoes were not wide enough to fit the kid’s feet. I love the concept, but need to be sure the “one for one” meets the needs of the other “one”.

    • Diana J.

      Hi Deborah, I’m working on a thesis for grad school about social enterprise and the one-for-one model in particular. I’d love to get in touch with the NGO you mentioned. Do you mind sharing the name? Thanks!

  • Alex Pratt

    I do hope that the consumer will begin to look beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling of being a “philanthropic consumer” and challenge companies like TOMS to dig deeper into the real needs of the communities they claim to support. Warby Parker has exhibited an admirable balance of focus on both sides of their mission- for the consumer and the benefiting community. Giving and aid are complex actions that have real impact. Please take the time to investigate if your helping purchases are doing just that.

    • http://www.thesparkfarm.com Jake

      UWEZO is a new brand concept that goes beyond the one-for-one program. When consumers buy a pair of the new African-made hair-on-hide desert boot (or other style), proceeds from the purchase support academic scholarships and education opportunity for Ugandan orphans and at-risk youth. So the manufacturing of the shoes fairly employs 2,000 Kenyans, and sales benefit Ugandans. You can give someone a pair of shoes that will eventually wear out, but UWEZO supports their education, which never falls apart. They’re at uwezobrands.org and launch with product next month.

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