Are TOMS Shoes all they’re cracked up to be?

Posted on May 30, 2011 by The Modern Gal


I ordered my first pair of trendy TOMS shoes about a year ago, a pair of the classic style made from burlap. Even though I know some people wouldn’t agree with me, I like the simple, loafer look of them. Plus, TOMS sells some vegan styles and promises to ‘use earth- and animal-friendly materials whenever possible.’ The kicker about these kicks, of course, is that for every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS gives a free pair to a child in a need somewhere in the world. When I received my shoes, I was struck by how comfortable they were on top of all the other benefits.

Are they too good to be true?

I started to wonder that after the burlap started to unwravel around the soles after just two weeks of wear. For $54 a pair, I expect my shoes to last far longer than two weeks, and how green can they be and how useful are they to children in developing countries if they’re falling apart that quickly? I did what I do anytime I have questions like this, I turned to The Google to see if others had asked and answered similar questions. What I found were mixed reactions.

Many have complained about the shoes quickly falling apart and have the quality of a $5 pair of shoes. Others have questioned TOMS manufacturing standards, though according to the company’s website TOMS ‘requires that the factories operate under sound labor conditions, pay fair wages and follow local labor standards.’

What piqued my interested the most were discussions about whether TOMS practice of giving shoes to children in developing countries did more harm than good. It’s easy to think: free shoes for those who need them = good, but do offering free shoes undermine local merchants and shoemakers who are trying to make their own living wage? Do they do too much to encourage a cycle of dependancy? Would TOMS’ efforts mean more if they offered support to shoemakers and sellers in developing areas rather than giving shoes away for free?

I can’t say I have answers for these questions, and it may be impossible to come up with any without a significant amount of research or time spent engaging the company itself (and it’s privately held, so good luck with that!) I do like to make well-informed decisions about green products and giving, though.

What do you think about TOMS shoes and their efforts to give away shoes? What about their quality? Would you buy them?

29 Comments +

  1. I own a pair of Toms. They were given to me as a gift. I like them… they’re comfortable from the get-go, but I don’t know that they’re worth $64. I suppose the cost accounts for the fair labor by which they’re made.

    I like the idea of a pair for a pair. I would imagine that the areas to which they’re giving free shoes are largely destitute and the families wouldn’t have the money to pay a cobbler anyhow. I don’t know.

    May 30th, 2011 at 3:16 pm
    Comment by tmc
  2. Well, I haven’t given any thought to whether their practice of giving free shoes away is a valid or helpful one, because I think their shoes are ugly and look as though they cost about $5. Which they probably do, as your price point of $54 is actually paying them for not one but two pairs of shoes (so they can give one pair away) and still make a profit.

    As a general rule though, I don’t buy products just because a company is donating part of the proceeds to some charity or other. If I want to donate to a charity, I will do that. If I need to buy shoes, I will do that separately, and find the pair that I like the best, rather than the pair that’s bribing my purchase with the promise of a charitable donation that I don’t even get a tax receipt for.

    June 1st, 2011 at 12:00 pm
    Comment by Laura
  3. I too own a pair of Toms. Honestly, I love them. When I purchased them last year I was not really thinking of the donation that I would be giving to a child in need, I was thinking of comfort and their environmental policy. Let me tell you, these are just about the most comfortable pair of shoes that I own! I have worn them for about 1/3 of the year and although they are beginning to rip… they still continue to be extremely comfortable.
    I must admit that you have opened my eyes to a plethora of questions about my favorite pair of shoes, but am I asking these questions about any of my other shoes, or does the fact that they are charitable just make us skeptical? Although I hope the answer to this question is no, I must concede that I did more research on my Toms than any other pair of shoes in my closet. I thank you for opening my eyes to many new ideas, and questions, but Toms still remain a shoe that I would recommend.

    June 6th, 2011 at 11:43 pm
    Comment by jane
  4. I found your post when googling TOMS SHOES FALLING APART. I bought a pair for each of my girls at Nordstrom as one of their two back-to-school pairs. we all loved the Pair for a Pair concept.

    Good thing I made my six-year-old wait until the first day of schoolto wear hers. She’s worn them twice and they’re falling apart. I wonder if the time and effort (not to mention the fossil fuels) spent returning them will outweigh their ecologically sound manufacturing practices.

    On a side note, I find it laughable that some people object to such programs on the grounds it makes the recipients ‘dependent.’ I prefer to be held accountable for contributing to their health and dependence, rather than their illness, discomfort, and independence. We are talking about little kids here, not slacker welfare cheats.

    September 5th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
    Comment by Lain
  5. I bought a pair of Toms for my daughter and within two weeks they started to fall apart. Exchanged them for another pair and this pair is now falling apart. Not just a little but major deconstruction: soles peeling away, soles cracked in half and the thread coming undone. Complained to Toms directly and still have yet to receive a response. They are certainly not within their 48 hour response window that they are promising on their website. When you call, their team has a very nonchalant attitude like they can’t be bothered and brush you off like you are making a big deal out of nothing. When I tried to return them to the store they said that Toms had to approve the return before they would give me a new pair. Very frustrating.

    September 20th, 2011 at 10:09 am
    Comment by junie
  6. well i think TOMS are really cool

    September 21st, 2011 at 1:29 pm
    Comment by kayla
  7. I bought my 15 yeard old a pair of Toms for bcak to school this year. She has had them for 1 month and both shoes have holes in them. I will never waste my money on these shoes again.

    September 25th, 2011 at 6:26 pm
    Comment by Carmen Rogers
  8. My daughter gave me a pair of Toms for my birthday over a year ago and I am still wearing them with little show of wear. Granted, I do not wear them daily, but I do wear them often. I had never heard of Toms Shoes, but she bought them for me knowing I would like the idea of the second pair going to a needy person. I am sorry about the bad experiences of the other Toms customers–did I get lucky or were they just unlucky? Who can say? I love my shoes; they are the only flats I have ever been able to wear with my angry flat feet. As far as the issue of making the recipients of the free shoes dependent–I doubt it.

    October 23rd, 2011 at 4:42 am
    Comment by Cathryn
  9. I purchased a pair of Tom’s Shoes for my daughter. I really disagreed at first because these shoes look like a $5.00-$10.00 Shoe. My daughter convinced me because of their popularity and I paid $58.00 included tax at Norddtorm. I do not mind to give free shoes to developing country where they cannot afford them. BUT, these shoes only last for a month and color started to faded out, sole worn out. I went back to Nordstorm, and of course Nordstorm has the best service, they gave my daughter a new pair. BUT, the sales person told me there are many return with same problem. these shoes lasted for a month. I think $60.00 shoes should lasted between 1-2 years. These kind of quality and Tom’s marketing will put this company out of business.

    October 30th, 2011 at 1:29 am
    Comment by Leon
  10. I Have several pairs of TOMS in Avery glitter color they come in & to be honest the shoe isn’t made for little children running around at school on the blacktop.. But in other countries these children don’t have shoes so they really appreciate them and take way better care. I wear my TOMS to work on the daily and yeah like any shoe they will fall apart and have wear and tear but think about it they aren’t made of all rubber or for running around violently. The cost of your shoes the pair they give to a child and to produce more shoes & to pay for fair labor all comes from the cost of you One pair of Shoes they offer jobs for others I think TOMS are amazing & my 6 year old daughter And myself will continue to wear them:)))

    Britney & Jenae

    December 31st, 2011 at 5:58 pm
    Comment by Britney
  11. ‎”If you purchase one SIXTY DOLLAR pair of shoes, we’ll give a pair to a child in need”- WRONG. You just bought two pairs of THIRTY DOLLAR shoes that are the same shoes you can purchase in Central America for SEVEN DOLLARS. Here’s a better idea. Go to Walmart or Goodwill and buy TEN TIMES the amount of shoes you could buy for ONE pair of Tom’s and donate to one of the MILLIONS of REAL, NON-PROFIT organizations that will donate them to TEN children in need. I am so disappointed that with a generation as educated as ours, we are buying SIXTY DOLLAR glittery, sequined shoes and believing that it is charitable. Sorry if anyone is offended by this, but c’mon. THINK ABOUT IT.

    February 10th, 2012 at 11:24 am
    Comment by Jess
  12. My entire outfit today: Scarf $6 from somewhere?, Jeans $10.50 from forever 21, Shirt $8 from target, Shoes 3$ from walmart. Let’s do the math. 27.50 for an entire outfit. Not even from thrift shops but from actual stores. So with around 30$ we could completely dress a child, rather than spend 60$ on “two” pairs of “shoes”

    February 10th, 2012 at 11:25 am
    Comment by Jess
  13. These shoes are not worth the money. They are made in China and are cheaply made then they sell them over here for 40-60$ then they may last 1 month if your Lucky! More people should complain!

    February 27th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
    Comment by Tanya
  14. I have been wearing my pair of toms for years, probably 4 or 5 and they are just now coming slightly undone in the heels. All of this talk about them being detrimental instead of helpful is not the whole truth, at all. What you may not realize is that Toms gives shoes to children in place like Africa where you’re not able to go to school if you don’t have shoes because you can get parasites in your feet that are contagious. I don’t think that they would do anything that is more harmful than good. Also, you have to realize that you’re buying 2 pairs of shoes which is why they cost so much, if you’re willing to pay loads of cash for the latest fashion in shoe wear i think that spending about 60 bucks for two pairs of shoes and helping children in need is well worth it. Not to mention, if you treat the shoes right and realize they aren’t meant for ‘hard labor’ in a way, and you don’t wear them in water or go hiking in them or whatnot and you treat them like they are made of canvas, which they are, they should be lasting you longer than a month. Not to mention those fashionable shoes you’re spending so much money on are probably made in worse conditions than these, if they’re made in bad conditions at all and I don’t hear any of you asking questions about those. THINK ABOUT IT.

    March 13th, 2012 at 10:56 pm
    Comment by Kelton
  15. While my shoes started falling apart only a few days after wearing them, the part of giving these same shoes to needy kids perturbs me. These shoes will not last in the rural areas that these kids live in. Within a few days, the shoes will serve no purpose, so what is the point? I honestly would like to see the shoes after a week on a kid in a third world country. Make a higher quality shoe that will last for wear and tear in rural areas as well as for the city. Then I will buy another pair.

    March 14th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
    Comment by Sarah
  16. “My entire outfit today: Scarf $6 from somewhere?, Jeans $10.50 from forever 21, Shirt $8 from target, Shoes 3$ from walmart. Let’s do the math. 27.50 for an entire outfit. Not even from thrift shops but from actual stores. So with around 30$ we could completely dress a child, rather than spend 60$ on “two” pairs of “shoes””

    Your entire outfit sounds like it was created in sweatshops. Probably employing children in other countries. Forever 21 is known to use sweatshops.

    March 22nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm
    Comment by Vince
  17. For $64, I thought I’d get a little more wear out of these shoes. They are coming unraveled and the sole is peeling. They’re cute wedges but pinch at the toes, making them slightly uncomfortable. Next time, instead of purchasing TOMS shoes, I’ll buy a quality pair of shoes and donate money to a reputable charity to feel good about a purchase.

    March 23rd, 2012 at 8:11 pm
    Comment by R. Lynn
  18. Not sure what everyone is talking about… I own 2 pairs of Toms, had one pair almost a year and the other since christmas. Neither are falling apart at all, and $50 is far cheaper than most shoe brands. I bought them because I traveled with a friend to peru and she had them. Wore them everyday doing everything, including hiking machu picchu. The only thing they were was dirty, not even slightly torn. I will keep buying these for comfort and price.

    March 27th, 2012 at 4:21 pm
    Comment by Brittany
  19. I also bought a pair of $64 classic toms. Actually, i have bought 3 pairs so far. Every single one of them has gotten a hole in both of the toes. Its not like im hiking with these shoes, im wearing them to school and errands and such. I love how comfortable and versatile these shoes are but to fall apart that quickly, really? And what about children in third world countries who have alot worse living conditions than I? I can hardly imagine their toms hold up any better. Wish production would recognize…

    March 28th, 2012 at 4:18 pm
    Comment by sam
  20. Well I plan on buying a pair of Toms because I thought the shoes are simple and cute and they help children in need. I know they are expensive but if you think about it, it all counts up to something. The trip, oil, and the effort to bring the shoes to where they are needed cost a lot of money.

    April 11th, 2012 at 3:28 am
    Comment by Cathy
  21. I like my toms. No problems so far. No problems with my husbands either. They are no more expensive than my other shoes. I have more problems with my expensive leather dress shoes where the leather wears & turns gray after a month or the heels wear out. My only issue with my daughter is she seems to slip in these shoes more. The toe & heel are rubber but in the center there seems to be a fuzzy overlay on the bottom causing the shoes to slide. Also, they are supposed to fit snug but I thought for kids they require toe space for their foot to develope properly. Probably wont buy her another pair till she’s older but hubby & I like them.

    April 12th, 2012 at 10:35 am
    Comment by Erin
  22. Are you ordered half a size than you normally would because I usually wear an 8 and I ordered these in an 8.5. I have had them for a year and there is no wripping or anything of the sort.

    April 21st, 2012 at 10:50 pm
    Comment by Em
  23. the toms that we buy and the toms that are given are different. the ones we buy are simply for fashion, and dont provide as much protection. The toms given to the children are different. they may not be as pretty, but its made out of a different, more sturdier material. if you look closely at pictures, the soles are made out of a more rubbery, croc like material. that why they last. also if you think about the cost of actual toms staff going to these countries themselves, that would cost a lot of money. so think about that too. so yeahh.. haha

    April 25th, 2012 at 5:49 am
    Comment by leighton
  24. I have 5 pairs of Toms and wear them almost everyday. I have had some pairs for 2-3 years and have had no problems with them. They are super comfortable. I pay about as much for a pair of jeans (on sale) as I would for a pair of Toms so I don’t think they are too expensive. $54 for a pair of shoes that has lasted me years is a good deal plus a pair gets donated. I’ll keep wearing them.

    May 1st, 2012 at 10:01 pm
    Comment by ser
  25. Some of you are crazy. TOMS does great things. To the person talking about donating on her own i would bet she doesnt. You dont donate either to get a tax break. Its sickens me, Dont believe in the message dont buy them!!!!!!

    May 16th, 2012 at 2:38 pm
    Comment by aj esquivel
  26. I love the idea of toms, and they are not for ruff kids because thats obviously going to wear them out.. i love how they fit well o your feet and no there not made from china and if you do want a pair for you kids then get a sole thats practical unlike the ones that are coushinee.. some of you guys must not have great luck or have never had a pair because i love those things.

    May 28th, 2012 at 10:03 pm
    Comment by autumn
  27. Not sure if the quality thing is recent but my daughter’s pair lasted 6 weeks (13 years old taking food care of them) and it is impossible to reach Customer service. Three emails, two phone calls of over 30 min (on my cell) and two attempts at Live Chat and I can’t reach anyone. Their Customer Service is either very bad or their quality has tanked and they can’t keep up. The Twitter page for customer service is full of complaints and people who can’t reach anyone (one girl was on hold for Chat for 90 min and never got anyone), shoes disintegrating, refunds not posting for a LONG time and returns taking months. Buyer beware in the current situation!

    June 1st, 2012 at 12:18 pm
    Comment by Ashlyn
  28. I honestly don’t know what you’re doing with your TOMS. I’ve had two pairs for over a year and their in mint condition. They’re not meant for hard labour and running fucking marathons. Their for walking.

    June 7th, 2012 at 12:17 pm
    Comment by Hannah
  29. Glad to know I’m not the only one with same problems with my TOMS. I’ve had mine for maybe a month and noticed last week they were falling apart around the heels. $54 wasted and I could have bought the same quality of shoes at Walmart for $10. My husband offered to burn the burlap back into my shoes but I’m afraid of harming them even more. I guess I will continue to wear my black burlap TOMS until they completely fall apart.. Main point Black Burlap TOMS don’t purchase!!

    July 15th, 2012 at 12:08 pm
    Comment by Josie

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So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.


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