TOMS Eyewear

Forward fashion. Our shades change lives.

Wednesday 10 October 2012, by Caroline, Jingcheng Hua, Zhao Yi

2 inspired

A. The main facts about the activities of the company.

TOMS Eyewear was launched by Blake Mycoskie in 2011, representing the evolution of TOMS Shoes. It aims at divulgating worldwide an anti-blindness campaign using its NGO partners, addressing its mission of “sustainable and repeated giving” throughout the “One for One” model: with every pair of glasses purchased, it will help give sight to a person in need who could otherwise not afford it. This is done through medical treatments, prescription eyeglasses and sight-saving surgeries.

TOMS Eyewear is administered by its first Sight Giving Partner (Seva Foundation) and is part of a for-profit business that has a strong philanthropic component. As a matter of fact, the business model is unlike most businesses: the charitable element is just as important as the for-profit one. In one year, in fact, it has proven itself to be a sustainable organization, thanks to the indirect contribution of customers that are enabling the company to pursue its donations on a continuous basis.

The organization is arranged in two parts: the for-profit company that manages logistics and operations, and “Friends of TOMS” that represents the non-profit subsidiary responsible for organizing the volunteer activities. The company is very disciplined in its expenses, therefore it controls costs for staffing and marketing. With regards to the latter, in fact, the company does not support any type of traditional marketing (i.e. advertising) and does not have a marketing budget, as it relies upon viral marketing, word of mouth and social networks, since consumers believe them to be more trustworthy. With regards to retailers instead, the company seeks for the ones that are passionate about its mission.

TOMS Eyewear glasses’ styles are Made in Italy and have hand-painted stripes symbolizing the three players of the One for One model: the first stripe symbolizes the purchaser, the stripe on the tips symbolizes the person in need and the middle stripe symbolizes TOMS bringing the two together.

B. The Ethical challenges this company is addressing.

TOMS Eyewear is more than a company with a profit purpose, it is an organization that has become a community, with the obligation to try and improve as many lives as possible. It offers hopes and opportunities to people with eyesight problems, giving them the chance to change their lives with the effort of others. In fact, one of the ethical challenges the company addresses is the combination between business and aid: the company solves a need throughout consumption and not only the glasses look fashionable, but they symbolize a honourable cause. Another one is most certainly sustainability, as it is pursued by the creation of value throughout all the supply chain and stakeholders, especially as it empowers employees and customers. Most of all, however, value is not just perceived by an economical point of view, but especially by a personal one.

Moreover, it addresses the ethical challenge of human needs, with regards to visual impairment: it is the 7th largest health disability in the world and in most cases it can be prevented or treated. This relates to the ethical challenge of breaking the poverty trap and serving the “bottom of the pyramid”, as by targeting visually impaired people the company is giving hope to nearly 285 million people, 90% of which live in developing countries. What should be stressed as well, is that “sight means education and opportunity”, especially when 90% of children who are blind do not attend school and 2/3 of blind people are women. Regaining sight transforms lives and when more people are able to have productive lives, whole communities have a chance for a better future.

Another significant ethical challenge the company is addressing is the importance of co-operation, as to fulfil the goal it has to be a collective effort. The company’s success has in fact proven that altruism works and matters to people. As a result, TOMS is able to educate consumers and offer them an opportunity to make a difference, as it blends the issues of social responsibility with management and sustainability, throughout its vision to demonstrate the effect of how working together as a society can “create a better tomorrow by taking compassionate action today.”

C. What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it?

First of all we would like to stress the fact that it is a company that has been set up for helping people, rather than making profits as its initial purpose. We therefore considered it to be an organization that “delivers love”, as it stimulates consciousness in customers and truly helps the ones in need. TOMS is a social entrepreneur that is extremely devoted to its cause, at all levels of the company; in fact, for example, it invests much in its employees by providing training that will help enforce their spirits towards its services and goals. We believe that nowadays it is really hard to find people, like Blake Mycoskie, who are willing to make a difference and develop a better world, especially within the business environment, and this is why we think the company is really ethical. The objective of giving a product for free is certainly something to be proud of, most of all if it is aimed at the more unfortunate ones. The company has an ethical heart because the One for One concept is embedded into the business strategy and the business itself has proven to be extremely sustainable. Plus, it is very careful in managing the business, as for example in choosing its partners: these go through tough audits, needed to ensure that they meet specific criteria and share TOMS’ values.

With regards to trust instead, we have faith in the company because first of all it is devoted entirely to its vision and includes all its stakeholders in the process of doing so. In fact, it is extremely committed in involving and informing customers, especially throughout the website; for example, the uploaded photos of customers using TOMS products have increased both awareness and credibility of the brand. Important is the fact that the product is tangible and identifiable, as well as the service offered to the ones in need, but most of all, it is the product that speaks for itself, allowing a natural spread of awareness instead of manipulating media or exploiting advertising. Moreover, what should be stressed is that the company has a long-term objective and is constantly updating its achievements, increasing productivity in a system where all stakeholders have a voice.

We feel that when a business, such as TOMS, is so successful in giving something to the worldwide community it proves that ethical issues are important and enables the society to be more aware about important subjects around the world. This is because of the immediate impact the business has on people and communities. As consumers, we would prefer to buy a pair of TOMS Eyewear glasses, knowing that we are contributing to make a change in a world that we feel is too full of selfishness, greed and ignorance.

D. The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

We believe that the key challenge for a company like TOMS Eyewear is how to convince people to talk about its products and spread the word, especially when it is not investing any resources in marketing. We have noticed, however, that great enthusiasm surrounds the company, and that in only one year it has been able to broaden its presence in many countries. However the company must be careful, because the public could have a higher expectation from it and in face of any mistake, even if small, the company will suffer from great image damage. Overall, customers are very excited about their purchases, so the company should focus on involving them always more in future, maybe throughout volunteer initiatives or events around the world: for example, it could organize trips to visit the people in need or even give the possibility to customers to interact directly with the person they helped with their purchase. These actions would most certainly increase awareness and trust, as well as enhancing the “communitarian” side of the business.

In discussing amongst ourselves about the company, we confronted with a few concerns and a few questions arose, as for example: “Where does the money go?”, “What kind of labor conditions are the products made under?”, “How are the resources used?” or “I would be very interested in looking at its balance sheet and income statement, especially to see the margins.” So, probably, another challenge facing the company in the future, relates to the transparency of the business and the accessibility of certain information, particularly by an economic point of view. Therefore TOMS could publish confidential data and information to increase its credibility, and avoid such criticism, as we feel that the company should commit in well monitoring its business activities and externalizing them, in order to maintain an appropriate business conduct and credibility.

Other challenges relate to the fact that first of all it is a business model that can be adopted easily by other companies, especially the ones already established and well known in the market that have the resources to accomplish such mission (i.e. Ray-Ban) and secondly, although consumers like purchasing from a humanitarian organization, they might tend to prefer branded products (i.e. Tom Ford). What TOMS Eyewear should therefore do is continually innovate, remaining proactive in managing these risks and never abandoning its focus on its philanthropy, which has been the key to its differentiation and current success rate.

Bibliography

TOMS Webpage, http://www.toms.com/ (accessed October 10, 2012).
TOMS Eyewear Webpage, http://www.toms.com/eyewear/ (accessed October 10, 2012)
TOMS Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/toms?sk=app_7146470109 (accessed October 10, 2012)
TOMS Tumblr page, http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/toms-eyewear?before=1320545509 (accessed October 10, 2012)

Start a new discussion

1 Discussion / 1 Message

  • TOMS Eyewear 7 March 2013 at 01:22 , by Marc

    I think it is a great idea but in my opinion it could be dangerous to mix business and charity. So for me it would be important to know which percentage goes to help blind people and what this money is really used for in numbers.

    On the other hand I believe it is great to decline marketing and spending money on promotion, because it should all go to the main goal of the company, but it would be really helpful to come down with some campaign (social networks may help) to make TOMS Eyewear really loud. Maybe some influent people retweeting it or someone famous wearing the glasses. Something free (or cheap) but powerful.

    Very nice iniative.

Location: Santa Monica, California (USA)

Sector: Arts, entertainment and recreation, Other service activities, Human health and social work activities, Manufacturing

Official website: http://www.toms.com/eyewear/

Key figures:

Number of countries served: more than 13 (including: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Paraguay, Tibet, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States.)

Nbr. visits: 952

Nbr. inspires: 2