TOMS shoes pioneered the the buy-one-give-one model, melding first-world consumption with third-world aid. With each pair of TOMS shoes you buy, the company sends a pair to someone in need in the developing word. Now TOMS says the needs are too big to stick to espadrilles. TOMS eyewear launched yesterday with the same buy-one-give-one model.
For $135 you can get a pair of TOMS shades and also provide "sight for one person" in Nepal, Cambodia, or Tibet through medical treatment or prescription glasses. Each pair of TOMS eyewear is decorated with three stripes, representing you, the person getting the other pair, and TOMS.
TOMS isn't the first to this space. Warby Parker and 141Eyewear each uses the so-called BOGO model with eyewear already. And there are other solutions to vision problems in the developing world like these $25 glasses that you can "tune" yourself, no optician needed. But there's plenty of room for all these solutions. By some estimates there are as many as 1 billion people with poor vision who can't afford glasses.
As Rose Shuman who used to work for the Adaptive Eyewear that makes glasses for the developing world, "eyeglasses are one of those things where you actually can show up and do an intervention and have made a lasting impact on a person. There are very few development interventions that work like that." Shoes wear out, but glasses can last a tremendously long time, and losing your sight takes you out of the labor force.
TOMS has taken criticism for attempting to tackle that kind of need through first-world consumption. Some argue that if not done right, donations can displace local development. Others point out that some cause-related buying actually displaces other donations. But TOMS is a shoe company, not a development nonprofit. Judged against other shoe (and now eyewear) companies, they're having a pretty impressive impact. And for the most part, TOMS customers are buying the product because they want it, not as their sole strategy for helping.
With that in mind, here are a few other products TOMS might want to consider expanding into.