Toms, Condoms, and Superiority

| March 18, 2014 | 4 Comments

To wear Toms shoes is to make a statement.

photo credit: tjstaab via photopin cc

photo credit: tjstaab via photopin cc

In 2006, the decidedly Californian brand Toms launched a company with a mission. For every pair of shoes a consumer purchased, a pair was donated to a child in need around the world. Toms’ “one for one” model was utterly successful; the simple canvas emblazoned with a trendy pattern and a minimalist logo appealed to many. They even stock a small selection of vegan shoes. Yet for a thin, canvas shoe, Toms can run upwards of fifty dollars. Some lobbied the charge that you were paying to feel as though you were doing good, a shoe designed to assuage the guilt of an upper middle class.

I was always skeptical of Toms. I felt too smart to be suckered by that brand of “consciousness.” Regardless of how well intentioned, I found something perverse about Toms creator Blake Mycoskie, in all his puka-shelled-attractiveness, putting shoes on the feet of poor Rwandan children. Vegan shoes? Give me a break. Not for me.  If I want to pay that much for canvas shoes, I’ll buy two pairs of Converse.

To wear Sir Richard’s is to make a statement.


Sir Richard’s Condom

Sir Richard’s launched in 2011 with a similar model to Toms. For every condom you buy, one is donated to a developing nation. While donating contraception sounds ridiculous in the face of starvation and other problems of developing nations, many countries are facing massive condom shortages and rising birth rates. In 2012, Sir Richard’s donated 2 million condoms. In 2013, it is estimated that their donations met all of Partners in Health‘s needs. They have yet to make a profit.

Sir Richard’s are a little more expensive then your standard Trojan. With a classic flannel pattern in modern colors, they are devoid of all the macho fare of a regular condom. No warrior of yore, no hokey names like “Fire and Ice.” Sir Richard’s are not for your sordid dorm room hookup, they invoke style and class. A sophisticated condom at last. They’re even organic and vegan.

Like that, I was made a sucker. Willing to dish out the extra two dollars, I bought Sir Richard’s as soon they went on sale at CVS. All of the apprehension that I felt towards Toms for being vegan and socially responsible disappeared immediately. Why was I so taken with something as simple as a condom? The marketing genius of Sir Richard’s has managed to tap into the contrarian spirit of a disaffected counter culture. They offer the chance to make something as basic as safe sex alternative, or even superior.

I genuinely believe that Sir Richard’s is making a difference. But that’s not why I purchased them. I bought them for the exact same reason thousands of people buy Toms every day. I was not simply buying a condom, I was buying an image. I was buying sophistication, superiority, and detached sense of philanthropy. Sir Richard’s taught me that I was no more immune from the appeal of the “one for one” model than anyone else. So before I laugh at anyone sporting $200 pieces of flimsy canvas in the name of charity, I’ll think back to my stylish bit of contraceptive purchased solely for my image.

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Category: featured, The (Sex)es

Adam DiBattista

About the Author ()

Adam DiBattista (CAS '14) is extremely proud to say that he is an Italian from New Jersey. Don't bother asking him about Jersey Shore. From the time he was a child he knew that he wanted to be an archaeologist. He continues working on that dream as an archaeology major. He fancies himself a renaissance man and dabbles in many things. Perhaps extreme amateur would be a better term. In his spare time he can be found trying to play harmonica or top-roping at Fit-Rec. Adam has many obsessions: Woodcut illustration, Italian grindhouse films of the 1970s, and cryptography (just to name a few).

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  1. DS says:

    so is it better to buy Nike shoes, made by Indonesian children making about 14 cents an hour?

  2. shannonwj says:

    Also, TOMS isn’t actually as socially responsible as it claims.

    Number 2- “The result of this setup, as Zizek explains most succinctly, is that on a big-picture level, TOMS (and other buy-my-product-and-donate companies) are busy building the exploitative global structure that produces economic inequality, while on the other hand pretending that supporting them actually does something to fix it.

    It doesn’t. It just gives people shoes.”

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