We all need shoes. Some, like myself, also just like shoes. I enjoy buying shoes. Unfortunately I can’t really afford to do it often, but occasionally I have the opportunity to replace a pair or two. Typically my casual shoes because I wear them most often and they take a beating. So, this year when I went to replace my tennis shoes I wanted to do it in a more socially responsible way. Here’s My Two Pennies review of Toms and Sole Rebels. Both companies have altruistic missions and I’ll provide a little more detail on both company missions as well as my experience with the shoes.
I did a little research and I purchased a pair of TOMS. TOMS fosters the “One for One Movement“, where when you buy a pair of shoes, TOMS gives a pair to an underprivileged child. It began when the owner visited Argentina and met children who were unable to attend school because they didn’t own shoes. In addition, wearing shoes prevents disease and infection. He started a shoe company and now goes on to distribute shoes to children in need every time someone purchases a pair of shoes.
TOMS has a section on their website that details their manufacturing practices and explains:
Where are TOMS manufactured?
TOMS currently manufactures in Argentina, China and Ethiopia.
How does TOMS ensure its manufacturers adhere to human rights standards?
We require the factories operate under sound labor conditions, pay fair wages and follow the International Labor Standards set by the International Labor Organization. A code of conduct is signed by all factories. Our production staff regularly visits these factories to make sure they are maintaining these working standards. We also have third parties audit the factories at least once a year to ensure they adhere to proper labor regulations.
Are TOMS Fair Trade?
We employ fair trade practices, although there are currently no official fair trade standards for footwear manufacturing.
My experience with TOMS began when I purchased a pair of shoes online. I have since purchased several more pairs and kept 3. I purchased their:
Here’s what I found. Overall, I would say that the experience has been less than satisfying. The website says that the shoes run true to size, but unfortunately they say that on every single pair of shoes on their website. This is definitely not true. If you plan to order online (and don’t) then check the reviews, there are often complaints about the sizing that can help steer you in one direction or another. However, my recommendation is, try them on in a store and purchase them there. Purchasing online requires that you pay considerable shipping and then if they don’t fit you have to pay again to return them. In general, Toms shoes are pretty pricey for what they are. They are slip-on casual shoes that run in the $60 range on average. Add in nearly $10 in shipping and they get a little less reasonable. Have a sizing issue and you now have a $70 pair of Tom’s. I do understand that you are paying to provide a little person somewhere with a pair of shoes, which is the only redeeming quality that has allowed me to justify my purchase. Here’s my list of issues:
- Sizing: every pair of shoes fits differently. I ordered the classics in my normal 7.5 shoe size and they were too tight in the toe box. I ordered them in a size 8 and they are still too snug. Conversely, the ballet flats in a 7.5 fit perfectly. The crochet classics arrived in a 7.5 and were a full 1.5 inches longer than the classics. They fit more like an 8/8.5. The bimini stitchouts flopped around on the back of my feet in a 7.5. Nearly every review that I read features the same complaint, inconsistent sizing.
- Appearance: My husband openly laughed at me. I replied that I thought that social responsibility looked good on me. That may be true, but the herringbone classics did not. In fact, I was invited to an impromptu gathering in a darkly lit bar late at night, and I was so embarassed by my shoes that I actually went home and changed. Considering that I kept the hoodie with the holey elbow on with no problem and left the house with my unclean hair still in a pony tail, but would not dare to wear those shoes in public should give you an idea of how hideous they truly look on my feet. They appear as folded fabric with an unusual squared and tapered toe box. My husband referenced Luke Skywalker’s shoes on Tattooine as he mocked me. I laughted and agreed and poitned out that TOMS actually makes shoes that look exactly like Luke’s boots. (You be the judge!) But I digress, the toe box of the slip-on looks a bit like an arrow from the top and they look a bit like slippers when worn. I was hoping to wear them with my business casual clothes, but that just isn’t going to happen. I can get away with wearing them on weekends with jeans, but I honestly haven’t found any outfit that is improved by the classics. The ballet shoes, however, are adorable and look cute with nearly every outfit, but they were considerably more expensive at a start price of $74 + shipping.
- Comfort: I mentioned above that the classics have an unusual shape. The biggest issue with the tapered square toe box is that your feet aren’t shaped like a tapered square. My big toe and little toe are always cramped and sore by the end of the days. The herringbone fabric hasn’t stretched at all and they are quite uncomfortable to wear. They also have no arch support and I find them difficult and awkward to walk in. The ballet flats have a more rounded toe box and are more comfortable to wear and have a bit more arch support. They are stiff though and if I have to walk more than a few blocks I get painful, bloody heels.
- Quality: The crochet classics were immediately returned because they arrived unraveling and cut in an odd shape. The sole of the classics is a cloth material with little glue dots for traction (see picture above), more like indoor slippers than shoes. I can’t imagine that these will withstand any regular use for very long and I wouldn’t even think about wearing these out on wet streets. They look cheap on my feet, like a cloth wrapper and are very thin. Again, the ballet flats are better, but I would never again purchase a pair of the classics or the bimini stitchouts. I returned them and got a second pair of the ballet flats in a different color.
- Customer Service: While Tom’s is easily accessible they are also painfully slow to respond. Initially my herringbone classics could not be returned for a larger size because they were out of stock. It took several weeks to receive a response and I had to pay for the return shipping and upcharge. The customer service team wasn’t able to complete the transaction without me calling in to speak to a representative and give them my credit card information again. Fortunately Tom’s did spring for the shipping to return the holey crochet classics, but it was several weeks before I received a response and again I had to provide my credit card information for the $21 upcharge to the ballet flats. I still haven’t receive the replacement pair and the quality issue and exchange request took place during the first week of March.
I don’t think I’ll buy these again. TOMS has a charitable mission and I appreciate their philanthropic aim, but in execution I’m just not happy with the results. The quality, comfort, and purchasing experience of the classics left me with a bad taste over and over again. I enjoy my ballet flats, but for all of the trouble I’d rather just buy shoes elsewhere and donate money to a good cause.
They boast on their website that they are proud to be the world’s only WFTO shoe company on the planet. They also specialize in sustainable fibers and recycled tire soles. Rather than giving a pair away for free, their mission is to provide truly sustainable production including recycled and locally-sourced organic materials. In addition, they pay their workers 4x the minimum wage and 3x the industry standard. They don’t use quotas and they believe that buy increasing the opportunity for employment that provides excellent wages and medical benefits that these employees can be empowered to provide for their communities (the company is based in Ethiopia and the shoes are produced locally).
Each week they sponsor a giveaway. Just tweet your favorite pair of soleRebels and you could be picked to win. I was! My free shoes arrived in an envelope. soleRebels does not use boxes to reduce packaging and expenses. However, if you aren’t the lucky weekly winner, you can just purchase your own online. They include this great printable foot measuring stick that comes with a discount of 5%. The shoes are around $60 and include free shipping and a 100% happiness guarantee that they will replace them for any reason until you have worn through the sole. Now, onto
I received the tooTOOs xxYYY homegrown | Forest Green
I love them! It’s just that simple. I measured my foot using the printout. I was just shy of the size 8 marker and when they arrived they fit perfect. The footbed is just rounded and wide enough to make for the perfect fit. They don’t flop around and my toes are free to roam. They have a cushy footbed, and look super cute on my feet, a bit like ballet flats. Although these are clearly casual shoes, the decorative stripe details means that I can wear them out with my causal clothes without fear of having them mistaken for my bedroom slippers. The recycled rubber car tire means that I can wear them with confidence and concern for accidentally stepping on a wet patch or destroying the soles from normal urban streets and sidewalks related wear and tear. These are cute enough to wear on my more casual of business days as they look adorable with my khakis and chinos. I can see myself wearing these with summer shorts and skirts too. I’ve already picked out two or three more pairs that I can’t wait to purchase. I really like what this company stands for (the old give a man a fish) and the shoes are far superior in terms of fit, comfort and quality of materials. They are hands down more sustainable and proven fair trade practices.
IMHO soleRebels FTW!