Earlier in the year we debated two consumer giving projects, Project Repat and TOMS Shoes, to discuss whether their business models promote good aid practices. Both have made recent additions to their businesses, so we want to see if these changes will change our views.
For those who didn’t read the first blog, Project Repat purchases secondhand t-shirts that have been sent to Kenya from local markets and then rebrands and resells them in the US to support development projects back in Kenya. Now they’ve launched their No More New product line as part of their Kickstarter Campaign that ends on the 16th December. The campaign is asking backers to pay $30 to help fund their next trip to Kenya, and in turn they receive a choice of one of the items they bring back as they work to standardise their product line with their small business partners on the ground in Nairobi.
Our biggest concern with their business model before was whether or not it was scalable and sustainable. This new move to support and train small business owners and local artisans in Kenya (mostly women) to make new products made entirely out of secondhand t-shirts is definitely a step in the right direction of scaling up and creating sustainability. It also allows the community to be involved and drive their own change as active participants in the business.
TOMS was originally just a company that for every pair of shoes it sold would give another pair of shoes to a child in need. Now they’ve expanded their business to include eyewear.
I know what you’re thinking – does that mean for every pair of sunglasses they sell they give a new pair of sunglasses to a child in need? Thankfully, no. For every pair sold, TOMS provides medical treatment for sight-threatening conditions, prescription glasses or sight-saving surgery in Nepal, Cambodia and Tibet. You can find out more about their new eyewear model on their website.
With their shoe business model, our biggest complaint was that although the “one for one” idea is effective for consumers, it’s not as beneficial for the recipients. The shoes are still just another handout and this model creates dependency on TOMS to continuously supply these children with new shoes as they wear out or grow out of the old ones. Simply giving away shoes fails to create any sustainable development or growth for the community.
This new eyewear business model still falls short of creating sustainable development, but it does create more long-term benefits for the individuals receiving treatment or surgery. As it says in the video, the majority of blinding conditions in developing countries are either preventable or curable so they are helping support these communities that currently lack access to treatment services.
So what do you think of these new additions to Project Repat and TOMS? Are these promoting good aid practices?