Tag Archives: knock-off

the commodification of charity

TOMS became popular because it represented a humanitarian cause. You didn’t just buy yourself shoes, you bought someone else shoes, too. The distinctive style and little flag on the heel became a sign-exchange value, telling people not only the “look how cool I am” of the Nike swoosh, but also “look how generous I am.”

So it’s no surprise that knock-offs started popping up everywhere. The same distinctive cloth-wrapped style, although sans the blue-striped flag and the “One for One” mission statement. I’ve actually heard women brag that they would never buy real TOMS, they’re so expensive, but found ones just like them for only half the price! What a steal!

I know I’m supposed to do the woman-bonding thing and congratulate her on her stealthy hunting shopping skills, but what I want to say is this:

Well, of course you found ones at half the price, because you’re only buying shoes for yourself. You want the sign-exchange value of “look how generous I am” without actually having to give anything. You want it on the cheap. You want to look giving but without it actually costing you anything.

This is especially true of Toms, given the company’s philanthropic nature, but it’s USAmerican consumerism all over the place. We want it to look real, but we want it made less expensive, regardless of how many people we hurt. Forget the second-pair-of-shoes cost of charity; we don’t even care about labor conditions for the people making our items or if the materials are durable, much less sustainably grown. If you aren’t going to do the research on that, the absolute least you can do is think about why it is you want that new piece, what you’re hoping that purse or those shoes will say about your person—and then make it true.

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