Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, has issued an exclusive statement to Change.org in response to an embarrassing controversy linking the popular urban apparel company to anti-gay, anti-choice group "Focus on the Family."
After Christianity Today reported that Mycoskie was apparently developing a relationship with Focus on the Family, the news infuriated people who were hoping to do good with their TOMS purchase through the company's shoe-giving program in developing countries. Across Facebook and Twitter on Friday, gay, lesbian, and allied customers expressed outrage that TOMS would associate itself with an anti-gay, anti-choice group. Ms. Magazine started a petition on Change.org that quickly received more than 400 signatures in just a few hours asking TOMS to drop their relationship with Focus on the Family.
Today, Mycoskie issued the following statement to Change.org, expressing "regret" for Mycoskie's speaking appearance at a Focus on the Family event on June 30, claiming that the religious group had misrepresented its relationship with TOMS as a "giving partner" in its shoe program:
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.
The Mycoskie statement was released to Change.org after I contacted the company on Friday night to seek clarification on why the brand would associate itself with a group known for fighting against efforts to expand the rights of LGBT and female Americans. According to Doug Piwinski, a TOMS spokesperson, both he and Mycoskie were on separate vacations when the news broke and were unaware of the developing controversy (although Mycoskie appears to have written this blog post on July 5 during his vacation). After receiving my call, they realized the "situation was serious" and decided to issue a statement.
The following excerpt from a Christianity Today article on July 1 initially sparked the controversy, but it didn't reach a broader audience until blogs like Jezebel and Gothamist covered it on Friday, July 8, sparking sharing of the news on Facebook, Twitter and Ms. Magazine's Change.org petition:
As this issue of Christianity Today goes to press, (Focus on the Family) is scheduled to highlight the work of Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, a company that donates shoes to an impoverished child for every pair sold.
"A year ago, they were like, 'Who's that?'," Fleece laughs. Now the company is working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa. "We're making slow strides here."
In many ways, Focus represents a larger struggle in evangelicalism over political and cultural engagement and the issues it prioritizes.
"Many traditional evangelicals are struggling with, What does evangelicalism mean?" says Dale Buss, author of Dobson's biography. "They still care about the same issues and they still agitate politically. But do we keep going back to abortion and gay marriage or be more responsive on issues the millennial generation is interested in, like sex trafficking and other social justice issues?"
TOMS spokesperson Piwinski told me that Mycoskie had not read the Christianity Today article until yesterday (July 8) after returning from vacation.
On Thursday, Microsoft pulled their online store from the Christian Values Network after a Change.org petition started by Seattle resident and Microsoft customer Stuart Wilber highlighted several anti-gay groups raising money through the Christian Values Network, including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. Shoppers at the Christian Values Network can buy from more than 600 brands. When customers purchase through the Christian Values Network, a portion of the sale is donated to the religious organization of the shopper's choice.
A new petition on Change.org started by Washington State University student, Ben Crowther calls upon Apple to remove their iTunes and Apple stores from the Christian Values Network.
Cross Posted on Change.org