News | 29.01.18

What is Buy One Give One?

Hey Girls team member standing

A fair few people have asked us this question, so we thought we’d write a quick blog about it. Buy One Give One is pretty simple really – you buy something (in this case sanitary products) and the organisation you buy it from (Hey Girls) gives another one away to someone who needs it – one for one. It’s a social enterprise model that doubles the value of every product purchased.

How can we afford to do that? Well, the price of two packs of pads is embedded into the price of one. Does that mean that Hey Girls products are expensive? – no, it just means that the normal sanitary products you buy are priced so that someone somewhere is making a big profit. We cut out this profit and use it to create social benefit by giving away free products to people who need them. Simple.

The pioneer of the Buy One Give One model was TOMS shoes, founded in 2006. For every pair of shoes they sell, they donate one to a child in need in a developing country. The model has spread, and there are now loads of Buy One Give One organisations selling everything from blankets (Blanket America) to babygrows (Baby Teresa), toothbrushes (Smile Squared) to wellies (Roma), and medical scrubs (Figs) to footballs (One World Futbol). This year American pharmacy chain Walgreens is running a ‘Get a Shot Give a Shot’ campaign, donating vaccines one for one.

Some commentators have criticised the Buy One Give One model, especially in an international development context. They argue that rather than addressing structural problems (the poverty that means people can’t buy shoes) it sells an easy feelgood fix to consumers (photos of kids that now have shoes), meanwhile reinforcing a culture of dependency and putting local shoemakers out of business. We totally see this argument, but we don’t think it’s fair to expect a shoe company to fix global inequality, and we don’t believe in waiting around for structural change to just happen – in the meantime, people need shoes. Buy One Give One means that purchases that would happen anyway (shoes, toothbrushes, sanitary pads) create extra value, rather than private profits. In the case of TOMS, shoes have been shown to help kids stay healthier, attend school, and feel more confident. Local giving partners – including local manufacturers – benefit too. TOMS have now diversified to selling glasses (funding eye care), coffee (funding water projects), and bags (funding maternal health care). By supporting project work as well as just donating products, they are creating a range of other wider benefits.

In the case of UK period poverty, we see Buy One Give One as a sustainable way of allowing people to access free sanitary products when they need them. Yes, we want to see structural change happen so that noone in this country is in a position of being unable to afford necessities. But we don’t see why anyone should have to experience the shame of bleeding without protection, while we wait for the economy to fix itself. Buy One Give One is an enterprising and sustainable solution to mitigate the effects of a broken system, leveraging existing purchasing power to make life a tiny bit better for society’s most vulnerable people.

Author: Molly Brown

TOMS                                    Baby Teresa

Blanket America               Roma


One World Football         Get a Shot, Give a Shot