Can Good Actions Be Bad?

Oct 22, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

For the last several weeks, scores of fashion and footwear blogs
have criticized Skechers for blatantly copying another shoe company’s business
model. The twist: the company is TOMS Shoes, which has gained widespread media
attention for its pledge to donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for each
pair it sells.

Skechers’ line, Bobs, is similar in name and also the same traditional
Argentine ‘alpargata’ style as TOMS. One-upping TOMS, Skechers is donating
two pairs of shoes to needy children through the charity, Soles4Souls, for
each pair of $42 Bobs it sells.

In a statement released to the Los Angeles
, Jennifer Clay, Skechers’
vice president of corporate communications, stated, "We saw what TOMS
is doing and believe their charitable efforts and program are inspirational.
We applaud their efforts and believe with our distribution and network we can
reach even more children around the world."

The statement added: "Skechers
is proud of its design, and we don’t think there should be any issue with being
inspired, as many other companies have been, by a design that is seven centuries
old and still popular throughout the world today."

She estimated in her
statement that the company "may be able to donate
up to 1 million pairs of shoes next year."

A spokesman for TOMS told the L.A.
that no legal actions are
being planned. In a brief e-mail, Blake Mycoskie, TOMS’ founder who was in
Ethiopia at the time the story broke, wrote: "At Toms, giving isn’t a
trend, or a fad, or a part of our business — it is our business. We’re proud
that Toms has inspired a global movement and continues to influence other companies
around the world."

Douglas Hand, a New York-based attorney who specializes
in the fashion industry, told the Times that TOMS may have no grounds
for any lawsuit.

"While you could argue," Mr. Hand said, "that Skechers is trading
off TOMS’ goodwill and what it represents — namely giving shoes to needy
children — it’s unlikely any judge is going to say you’re the only company
that can give kids free shoes."

But TOMS’ fans and others mocked the new
line. Many felt Bobs’ effort lacked authenticity, coming from Skechers, and
took advantage of a profitable yet philanthropic business.

"By mirroring the TOMS’ concept so blatantly, Skechers not only showed
a lack of creativity and originality, but they left themselves wide open to
accusations of disingenuous social concern," wrote Simon Mainwaring in
a blog for Fast

Discussion Question: Could Skechers do more harm than good to its own brand
by copying the TOMS philanthropic model? Would you have recommended a different

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5 Comments on "Can Good Actions Be Bad?"

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Jesse Rooney
Jesse Rooney
10 years 6 months ago

A brand can be hurt any time it makes the company look like an also-ran. Philanthropy or not, the Sketcher’s brand sure seems like it is co-opting TOMS as evidenced by the number of news articles associated with this story. Giving shoes away is nice, but playing on the same style and the same simplistic name for the brand (Bobs vs. Toms) just makes it look like the company has exhausted its internal innovation which in turn makes it seem old and sad.

Ian Percy
10 years 6 months ago

Am I being naive to think that maybe Skechers could have gone to TOMS and said “We want to join you in helping kids around the world put something safe on their feet. Is there part of what you’ve begun that we can help with or have you seen an unmet need that we could take on and share this cause with you?”

Sadly we can trust the business community to immediately judge everything in competitive and territorial terms–and heaven help us if we bring in the lawyers. Let’s leave the competitive element in the retail environment for goodness sake. I don’t think kids getting their very first pair of shoes are questioning the motivation of those who gave them. Frankly I don’t care about the motivation either. The Universe has a way of looking after such things all by itself.

You know who gave the ultimate first class response? TOMS Blake Mycoskie. That’s the spirit we need to emulate.

Bruce Laffee
Bruce Laffee
10 years 6 months ago

Who cares where the idea came from? It is still a good idea and the right thing to be doing.

Are we now at the point where we wouldn’t give to a charity just because we know someone else did it first?

I’m sure if we asked the people getting the shoes they wouldn’t care where they came from as long as they were available.

Let’s see some other shoe companies follow suit and then Toms will get credit for the idea.

Al McClain
Al McClain
10 years 6 months ago

Bad idea. They could have done something that complemented the original idea rather than being copycats. Definitely shows a lack of imagination.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 6 months ago

Great idea and action plan to be philanthropic. Bad idea to copy a competitor’s brand and name to do it. This will bring more notoriety to Sketchers than Joe Montana did; but is it going to be the kind of publicity Sketchers wants? The winner and still philanthropic champion is Tom’s.


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