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Charity through consumerism retail business model


For every shoe purchased, a child in need receives a new pair of shoes. From this simple premise, TOMS Shoes has built an ethical business and become a mainstream international company. With a motto of One for One, TOMS uses the power of purchasing to fuel international giving. In turn, the simple act of buying a pair of trendy canvas shoes makes customers benefactors. With TOMS as the springboard for this type of movement and an ideal ethical business model, other companies have started to follow its lead. Company’s such as SOMB, or “Shirt Off My Back” gives school uniforms to children in Africa with every item purchased and a well-known campaign, RED uses a similar model to raise money and awareness about AIDS/HIV in Africa.

When American Blake Mycoskie travelled to Argentina he found that many children had no shoes to protect their feet. When in Argentina, Mycoskie fell in love with Argentinian ‘alpargatas’, or espadrilles. During his trip he met aid workers who were distributing shoes to the needy. The shoes they were giving to children were old shoes, but Mycoskie had the idea of giving children new shoes and built the business from the comfortable, canvas alpargatas. With this concept, TOMS was born out of the moniker “tom-orrow.”

With the One for One premise, for every pair of shoes that are bought, TOMS gives one pair to a child in need. The company gives to various countries worldwide. African countries include: South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, and Uganda. They also give to countries like Honduras, Argentina, Armenia and El Salvador.

From TOMS collaborations, Element Skateboard has also issued limited edition TOMS as well as a One for One skateboard. For every skateboard that is purchased, one will be given to a child at the Indigo Skate Camp in Durban, South Africa.

Why shoes?

Many children in developing countries grow up barefoot and have to walk miles a day without footwear. Because of this, millions of children are at risk of diseases, injuries and infections that most cannot afford to treat. The way TOMS works is it teams up with humanitarian and health NGOs that are established in its respective countries. Giving partners have to meet a certain criteria and must be able to work with the same communities in multi-year commitments and regularly provide shoes to the same children as they grow up.

In certain regions of Ethiopia and other areas of Africa, podoconiosis is a major health concern. The disease is a form of elephantitis which affects the feet and is believed to be caused by the exposure of minerals in red African soil. In Addis Ababa, TOMS’ partners work with street children to provide them with shoes to protect their feet from dangerous city roads and aid in protecting their feet from diseases like podoconiosis.


SOMB which stands for “Shirt Off My Back” encompasses the same giving model as TOMS, One for One. For every item bought, SOMB will provide a school uniform to a child in Africa. Like TOMS, SOMB uses this model to make consumers into sponsors allowing the company to grow into a sustainable, ethical partnership dedicated to children in Africa. The company’s mission is to ensure that children aren’t denied education because they cannot afford a school uniform.

Started by four young entrepreneurs: a movie producer, a Wharton Business School grad, a professional athlete and an investment banker—the four-some joined forces in 2010 to create SOMB.

Why school uniforms?

Many children in Africa are unable to go to school without a uniform and in some countries it is an actual law. For this reason alone there are many African children who do not attend school because their families are unable to afford the uniforms. Without important access to education, many children end up on the streets. SOMB works to provide these uniforms for children in need, helping them gain an education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

After the children have been given uniforms, SOMB works with partner charities that are on the ground in Africa and follows up with the children, providing additional support to ensure they have this continued access to education services.


Started by U2 frontman Bono and Bobby Shriver of ONE/DATA to promote and engage the private sector in raising awareness and money to help eliminate AIDS in Africa, RED is probably one of the most well-known campaigns out there from an ethical retail standpoint.

The idea is simple in that it works with major brand names such as American Express, Apple, Converse, Gap, Armani, Hallmark, Nike and Starbucks to promote RED. The campaign partners with these companies with specific RED product items and gives up to 50 per cent of the profits to the Global Fund that invests in HIV and AIDS programs in Africa.

Since its founding in 2006, RED has generated over $170 million dollars for the Global Fund.

How it works

RED has various retail partners such as the popular clothing company, Gap. The RED product costs the same amount as other Gap apparel but by choosing RED clothing at the Gap that means 50 per cent of Gap’s profits from that product will go towards eliminating AIDS in Africa.

When the shopper buys a particular product that is a RED product, such as a T-shirt, the company sends 50 per cent of the profits directly to the Global Fund.

The Global Fund uses 100 per cent of the money it receives to finance HIV health and community support programs in Africa. With the Global Fund, a purchase of a RED product helps those affected by HIV in Ghana, Rwanda, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia and South Africa as well as other countries.

Each company gives a different percentage of profits to the Global Fund. Gap for instance may give 50 per cent of profits from Gap RED products but other companies may give less.

The Global Fund

The Global Fund is the recipient of RED funds and is the number one financer in the world for programs to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. Since 2002, the Global Fund has given $21.7 billion to programs in 150 countries. With RED, The Global Fund invests 100 per cent of it to HIV/AIDS programs in Africa, with a focus on women and children.


With companies like TOMS and SOMB, and through campaigns like RED, it is evident that selling a simple product and in return giving a product to those in need promotes both the purchasing power of individuals and their power to give. With a simple yet ingenious business idea these organizations create charity through consumerism while increasing awareness about issues in developing countries like Africa whose many children live life without shoes on their feet and uniforms to wear to school.  

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