Title: Start Something that Matters
Author: Blake Mycoskie
words GEORGE HEISE
Start Something that Matters, a new book by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, is a wonderfully woven piece of fiction. The book seemed great for the first 20 or so pages until I noticed a discrepancy between Mycoskie’s advice on starting a for-profit corporation with conscientious marketing and the altruistic people who have started non-profits and other charities that sell products or services. Constructed like every other DIY-altruistic-corporation self-help guide, Start Something that Matters opens with several sympathy-evoking chapters about Third World poverty and concludes with examples featuring “green” PR campaigns spliced in with a few stories of people who started non-profits that actually combat poverty in the developing world.
While quoting emphatic playboys who saved the world, told all their friends on facebook, and started their own companies marketing that story back home, Mycoskie fails to acknowledge any difference between non-profits that actively market products sustainably (where all sales beyond breaking even annually go to charities or other non-profits) and corporate PR campaigns, where little of the movement consumers partake in actually changes conditions in the real world. Mycoskie has a few examples of individuals marketing legitimate social movements through non-profits, such as a student from Arizona State University, who started selling meningitis shots two at a time, one for the college freshman consumer and another for someone in need in Africa. However, Mycoskie almost instantaneously juxtaposes these examples of individuals who started something that matters, with corporations who started donating to the developing world or any other bogus cause that’s trendy — also known as a tax write-off. So what if Pepsi makes a $20 million donation to providing clean water somewhere far away instead of buying a prime Superbowl commercial spot for the same price? This does not make them a part of any social movement. With or without that donation, they deny water to indigenous cultures in South America with bottling plants and are still one of the world’s largest producers of non-recyclable plastic waste.
So let’s take the socially conscientious values found in Start Something that Matters and apply it to TOMS Shoes itself, which started as a company operated out of an apartment and in less than a decade became a multi-million-dollar corporation. From buying a pair of TOMS at St. Vincent Depaul’s and tearing the hell out of them, here’s what I can say about the product. They’re manufactured cheaply in China with unsustainably and irresponsibly sourced materials, in an industry that frequently takes advantage of low wages and long hours, not to mention increased fuel costs to ship the two pairs of shoes you just bought internationally to two locations for 55 bucks a pair. Even if production costs are doubled because your consumer is buying two products instead of just one, TOMS shoes can’t cost more than $5 to make a pair. With that 55 bucks you could have bought shoes for at least a handful of kids — and myself. The damn things don’t last longer than a few months anyway. Consumer beware: The “socially minded” BOGO (Buy-One-Get-One) model is bullshit. What do kids from the developing world want more: a pair of shoes that cost 5 bucks to make in their own country, or the $50 dollars more you just threw in Blake Mycoskie’s lap?
Rated: One dick sucked by the developing world for every dick you suck.