The Cult of TOMS

My week in a word: Overwhelming.

In the past week, I’ve caught up with a friend I haven’t talked to in about three years, I’ve learned about a lot of cool music, and I’ve gotten extra-psyched for my college’s spring weekend. I made it through said spring weekend even though it rained and was cold, and I am mega sore from playing on so many gigantic blow-up obstacle-course-like things. My computer screen has died and then miraculously (and probably temporarily) come back from the dead. I have been excited, spectacularly happy, and confused. And I’ve made it out alive.

So much excitement, though, means that I am having the worst trouble concentrating. As some of you know, one of the things I absolutely love to do when I can’t concentrate is shop online, so I’ve been doing that quite a bit in the past few days. I don’t actually buy everything I shop for– I am a college student, after all– but I think it’s fun to look around and see what companies have to offer. It’s more like online window shopping, really, and the things I like the most are the things I come back to.

I somehow happened upon the TOMS website sometime late last week, and even though I was in full-out procrastination mode I was pretty surprised that I was even entertaining the idea of buying a pair of them. For all of you who are not as up to date on women’s (and men’s) fashion, TOMS is a company that sells espadrille-like shoes. For every pair someone buys, the company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need.

Don’t get me wrong. I am totally all for helping the needy. I think it’s great, and it’s cool that a company that does such a great-sounding thing has been able to acquire such a following. But that following is also kind of the reason I’ve stayed away from them. It sounds awfully hipster of me now that I think about it, but the main reason I’ve stayed off the TOMS bandwagon for such a long time is that it seems too much like a cult for my liking.

What I mean by that is that TOMS seems to have amassed a group that blindly follows its trends. When you go to other store websites– or shop in stores, or hear things about them, etc– people react to the products they’re buying. Browse almost any website and you’ll find scores of people who either love what they’ve bought or hate it now that they’ve finally gotten it and tried it on. They give the product a rating and then detail what they liked and didn’t like about it. I actually pay attention to these reviews when reading something; I find them really helpful. And you bet that if I order something that doesn’t fit right, or immediately falls apart with use, I’m going to return it as soon as possible and leave a review saying why I did.

TOMS is not like these other, normal stores. It seems like the people who review their recent TOMS purchases are always giddily satisfied with their purchase, even when something with the product has gone disastrously wrong. There are reviews all over the site of women purchasing shoes that have a major defect– or, at least, they present it as such– and yet they are still magnificently happy with the shoe and want to recommend it to the entire shoe-loving world.

For example, one reviewer complained about their shoe sprouting a random “gaping hole” in its side “about an inch wide.” She claims that it “wasn’t obtained due to roughness” and just appeared in her shoe. If the hole wasn’t caused by rough treatment, how would it have spouted if not for a manufacturing defect? And yet the reviewer still gave the product a four-star rating. Another reviewer on another set of shoes complained that after the first day of wearing her new wedges, the rubber sole started peeling off. Instead of contacting the company like I think any other consumer would do, the reviewer gave the shoe a four-star rating and held onto them, saying that she was “hoping a little super glue” would fix the problem.

I just don’t understand why TOMS is so different. At any other company, if the product someone orders either isn’t what they expected or is defective in some way, they return it. They don’t go to the website and give a four-star rating to something that could have (should have?) been better, something that would have been rated on a higher scale somewhere else.

I don’t know. Maybe TOMS customers will give good reviews to just about anything as long as they’re slapped with a TOMS label. Or maybe the shoes actually are so comfortable that even if they fall apart, they are better than any normal shoe. I couldn’t tell you yet, but I might be able to soon. Who knows if finals week will drive me to finally join the cult of TOMS?

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