Last Saturday this woman walked by me in the CUTEST TOMS I've seen yet. They were metallic gold - but not sequined like the ones I've seen before. I immediately stopped her to ask about them. "Oh, they are from Niemans! I guess they have their own exclusive styles," she kindly replied with a look of worry, like I was going to physically yank them off her feet. I turned to my friend Carrie and said "We're going to Niemans."
Since shoe shopping was next on our list, Carrie didn't need too much convincing. We headed to the Nieman Marcus store in the Newport Fashion Island Shopping Center and confirmed that yes, Niemans does have a different variety of TOMS shoes than I've seen other places - and these TOMS come with at least a $30 higher price point.
Yes, TOMS for the rich.
The thing that intrigued me the most is that while these shoes were more expensive, they also were better made. While the TOMS I own look like the rubber sole was attached with a hot glue gun, these TOMS had a thicker, more sturdy bottom that was sewn on. Additionally, these had a leather area on the bottom near the arch with the TOMS logo. While I've debated the TOMS ballet flats at Nordstrom because they seem (and feel) like they are almost made of cardboard, the NM exclusive metallic hot pink TOMS ballet flats were comfortable from the moment I slipped my foot into them. So really, if you have been wanting TOMS but are too afraid of slipping into a dirty hippie look, these are the TOMS for you.
But this discovery also left a strange feeling in my stomach. From a marketing stand-point I understand the need to offer different retailers different "exclusive" items that fit with their brand. I don't think that $85 TOMS will sell as well at your local surf shop as they would in New York City. So why am I kinda astonished by learning about this?
I think it has to do with the integrity of the company's mission: the "one for one" concept. I would (and have) slapped down $45 for a pair of some-what ugly canvas shoes knowing that a child out there is receiving a pair in return. But $125 for exclusive Nieman-Marcus hot pink ballet flats - that's not socioeconomic trade, but pure old American capitalism. Are the women of 5th Ave too good to wear the same TOMS as the beach bums in Encinitas? Does the upper class really need their very own, specially made TOMS? And I'm sure the price difference in making the shoes this much "better" is pennies on the dollar.. so is TOMS giving two or three pairs to needy children in return for their purchase?
Food For Thought
Anne, one of my oldest and dearest friend's has dedicated her life to helping others around the world. From Africa to Haiti she's been there, providing aid and medicine to those that don't have it. I asked her opinion on TOMS shoes, and her response was pretty straightforward. While aid workers will gladly take the attention and donations for any cause - out of all the issues out there, un-shod feet is actually at the bottom of the list of "issues." It's not going to matter if the child has shoes if there is no clean water for them to drink, no medicines available to heal them or no food for them to eat. While yes, they can contract illness or hurt themselves by not wearing shoes, these things are minor in comparison to what not having food, water and medicine does to their lives.
All good points. But still, in this day and age we all like to help out when and where we can and we all love a company based on promoting social justice. Maybe that's why seeing the "exclusive" TOMS styles irked me so much. For a company that is dedicated to helping the less fortunate, doesn't it seem like by providing these more expensive and better made shoes to an elite demographic that the company is actually creating a bit of a class divide? There are way too many gaps between the "haves" and the "have nots," and I had at least (idealistically) thought that TOMS shoes crossed that divide.
That all being said, I'm still lusting after those hot pink ballet flats.
I welcome your comments on this. Did you know about the "exclusive" TOMS brand? Does this affect your opinion of the company, the shoes and the company's mission at all?
After posting this article, fellow blogger Lindsay Goldner pointed me to this article on TOMS shoe's being a "band-aid" that she had recently read. Great read and very relevant to the points my friend Anne made!