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Understanding the conscious consumer

tomsshoes“Consumers don’t just want to buy stuff; they want to wear stuff that represents their values” says Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms Shoes.

For those who aren’t aware of Toms; since its launch in 2006, Toms has found global success with its unique one for one business model, which says it all: you buy one pair, they donate one pair. “It’s easy to understand and to share” said Mycoskie during an interview with The Independent.

The California-based label has managed to enchant every generation with a shoe that is a cousin to the classic espadrille, but Mycoskie argues the consumers desire for the brand goes way beyond the simplicity of the design itself.

They want to wear stuff that “represents their values”.

The values and pride associated with each purchase, mean that no matter what their age, from a grandmother to a teenage girl, all ages can relate to the people the shoes are supporting, the feel-good measure is shared, and so the retailer grows.

Every time we, as customers, spend cash, we are making an active choice about the companies we support and the practices we endorse.

Increasing awareness around issues such as the retail manufacturing industry being the second most polluting industry on earth, has led to a rise in what is known as conscious consumption, a movement of people who seek out ways to make positive decisions about what to buy and look for a solution to the negative impact consumerism is having on our world.

While your retail business may not have such an organic backbone of social entrepreneurship like that of Toms, that doesn’t mean that you should just sit back and do nothing. If you are yet to profile your consumer market by personality traits and behavioural values, you may not realise the importance of conscious consumption on your target market.

So what can we do?

Every business is different. Certainly some changes come with a financial investment to truly make a significant impact, however one change we can all make is just ‘to consider’. Consider whether you need all of that extra wrapping paper in your store bags. Consider ensuring transparency in your supply chain and how you can communicate this to your customers. Consider the way your back-of-house is managed and the impact these kinds of initiatives could have on your workforce.

“[Many companies] don’t make it personal for their employees,” said Mycoskie. “They write a check at the end of the year, and they don’t really get any value out of the donation dollars that they’re putting out there. You have to make it more a part of the culture of the company and give employees a sense of pride and purpose, and that will come back tenfold in terms of how much harder they’ll work, how you’ll attract employees, and how long you’ll retain them.”

As always, these values and causes must be something you truly believe in and align with your brand messaging as it will appear fake if not. However changing your thinking, and encouraging your customers and staff (who are your brand ambassadors) to change theirs too, could significantly strengthen your brand, build a culture everyone is proud to be part of, ensuring a lasting and sustainable future.

Eleven years after Toms first launched, the company has expanded its catalogue to shoes, bags, sunglasses, and coffee. The company expanded its one-for-one program to other products as well. Toms eyewear sales provide full eye exams and sight restoration to people who need them; coffee sales provide a week’s supply of water; and sales of Toms bags fund vital materials and training for safe births in African countries.

Vikki Weston, author of this column, is part of Retail Doctor Group’s Retail Insights team and can be contacted via email at

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