TOMS Shoes and Focus on the Family: A Puzzling PR Disaster

The principle is simple: buy a cool pair of shoes, and a barefoot guy (or girl) across the globe gets a pair for free. What’s not to like?

A lot, if the outcry online is any indication. TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie managed to potentially offend nearly everyone a couple of days ago when he issued an apology for appearing at an event with Focus on the Family:

Had I known the full extent of Focus on the Family’s beliefs, I would not have accepted the invitation to speak at their event.  It was an oversight on my part and the company’s part and one we regret.  In the last 18 months we have presented at over 70 different engagements and we do our best to make sure we choose our engagements wisely, on this one we chose poorly.

Furthermore, contrary to what has been reported, Focus on the Family is not a TOMS giving partner.

So there is no misunderstanding created by this mistake, let me clearly state that both TOMS, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all.   That belief is a core value of the company and of which we are most proud.

Though Mycoskie has not specified which parts of Focus’s beliefs he didn’t know about, the apology came in response to pressure from gay and lesbian fans upset that he had planned to work with the group.

It was, at best, a clumsy reaction. You can read Focus on the Family’s response here.

TOMS is not a pro- or anti-gay group; in fact, it’s not a political, religious, or cultural group at all: it’s a shoe company. Mycoskie is a Christian, and TOMS has partnered with many Christian organizations—but they’re not a specifically Christian company, and their ubiquitous shoes are equally popular on Christian college campuses and in gay hangouts.

Why didn’t he simply point this out in his response? Why give in to outside pressure on an issue that has nothing to do with the way TOMS does business?

Perhaps because of a threatened boycott:

Yea well Mycoskie better hop on it soon, like today.  Cause we were just on the Facebook Fan Page for the Prop 8 Trialtracker and those queens are not having it. They’ve already posted the link to Tom’s Facebook Fan Page on their wall and messaging left ‘n’ right to get folks over to Tom’s Facebook page pronto to offer up a piece of their minds. The boycott strategy is being laid out as we type.

We just don’t understand Mycoskie. What the hell is he thinking? Hookin’ up with an anti gay outfit like Focus On Family is just begging for trouble.  We don’t think his company can survive this.  What an idiot.

Trouble is, in distancing itself from one of the United States’ most prominent Christian organizations, TOMS also risks being boycotted by Evangelicals. At this point no one seems to have tried to organize such a boycott, but don’t be surprised if someone does.

On the other hand, Mycoskie’s puzzling response may make some more likely to purchase his company’s shoes. His clumsy maneuvering sounds like the response of a real person, not a smartly strategic PR guru. That’s different–a relief, in the midst of an all-too-familiar image battle.

Image via Flickr user jmogle

Published by

Rachel Motte

Rachel Motte is a freelance writer, journalist and editor specializing in social issues, educational affairs, and international religious freedom. Her work has appeared at, The Evangelical Outpost, The New Ledger, the Daily Caller, and in Jonah Goldberg’s recent anthology, Proud to Be Right. She is an alumna of Biola University, the Torrey Honors Institute, the Leadership Institute, and the World Journalism Institute. Rachel may be reached at rachel[at]rachelmotte[dot]com.

  • kathleen

    F0cus on the Family is a known hate group.  TOMS made an incredible blunder by associating with them.  The word spread like wildfire on Twitter and blogs — TOMS finally distanced themseves, but a lot of damage was already done.  Lesson:  do your research before you end up in bed with bigots. 

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  • Kjj76210

    A “known hate group”????  Exactly what is it that they are “known” to “hate”, and exactly how has that “hate” been publicly expressed, such that it might be “known”??

  • Irwin

    Toms….evangelicals make up a far greater buying block than gays. If you’re goal is to help the poor, and if sales generates that assistance, then you chose the wrong doghouse.

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  • swag

    Toms is following a bizarre business model anyway where customers outsource their charitable giving through their vendors. This is just one of many downsides when you mix business with non-business.

  • Bilbroshire

    FoTF has stated that homosexuals are attempting to destroy marriage. In an article a few years ago, they blamed homosexuals for a decrease in marriage from 1960-1999. It is an organization that blames homosexuals for the failings of marriage.  They don’t blame alcoholism, they don’t blame domestic violence, they don’t blame adultery, they blame homosexuals.

  • Marc

    Gays.  Women.  Men who aren’t Christian.  Sex.  Love.  Joy and light in general.

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  • Silly people

    Ya let’s forget about how Focus on the Family is associating with someone who is helping the poor, and let’s focus on the other topic the bible clearly states about sinful behaviors and what it states on how to become clean from your sin. Let’s name a few,  1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were
    sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by
    the Spirit of our God.”

    I don’t see the word “hate” do you? Just because God doesn’t like the behavior of these sins doesn’t mean he hates you.

  • Hawkins

    Interesting, so if a guy seems progressive and gives shoes to the poor
    he’s alright up until the moment you find out he may or may not share
    all your beliefs, then we must destroy all the good.

  • Joe Ensminger

    I think you are glossing over some pretty relavant points in order to appeal to the emotion you eschew. Please look farther into this topic or leave it to someone who is willing to get to the fundamentals of it rather than simply slapping a comment like this out there.

  • Joe Ensminger

    You have a seriously warped view of Christianity but thats not at all surprising among the portion of the population that learn about Chrisitanity from CNN rather than from the bible. I am a Christian and I hate absolutely no one but rather love everyone. Jesus Christ is the light of the world and the joy of man. You dont know what joy actually means if you arent a Christian. Its not just a synonym for happy. If you havent experienced it I can see where you might make that mistake. You could use a little love in your life and I hope you find it. Every single example you posted is incorrect. All of them. I sincerely hope you get a chance to reconsider your bias against Jesus. Have a great day.