Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Blake Mycoskie Start Something that Matters

Start Something that Matters, a new book by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, is a wonderfully woven imaginary piece of fiction. The general gist of the book is a short, large font, enterpenteurial self-help guide that uses the bogo (“buy one, get one”) model to appeal to a socially-minded consumer movement - ideas such as sustainability, environmental integrity, reducing outsourcing, using recycled materials, and paying workers a fair wage. The book seemed great for the first twenty 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 chapters of sympathy-evoking stories involving third world poverty and concludes with examples featuring corporate PR “green” 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, environmentally friendly, domestically, and financially soundly (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 ASU that 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 movements like corporate donations 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 twenty million dollar 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; It’s a twenty million dollar tax write off. 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.
Despite the inconsistencies in Mycoskie’s choice regarding exactly which people and corporations helped transform TOMS from a business ran out of an apartment to a multi-million dollar corporation, if we take the socially conscientious values found in Start Something that Matters and apply it to TOMS Shoes, the company. From finding a pair at V. DePaul’s and tearing the hell out of them, here’s what I can say about them. They’re manufactured cheaply in China using materials that use unsustainable farming, 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 a at least a handful of kids - and myself. The damn things don’t last longer than a few months anyway. Consumer beware: the BOGO model (Buy-One-Get-One) corporate ‘socially minded’ profit model is bullshit. What does a kid from the third world want more: a pair of shoes that cost 5 bucks to make in their own country, or the 50 dollars extra you just threw in Blake Mycoskie’s lap?


  1. Hey, nice post, do you happen to know Yiana Michalakopoulos?

  2. Yes! We went to middle and high school together and I worked at her mom's Cafe for a few years.