Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, at a “shoe drop” in Ethiopia. TOMS delivers a new pair of shoes to a child in eed for every pair the company sells.
all morning trying to clarify TOMS’ role in
fighting this disease.
Mycoskie ushers me into a large room
with a giant, dark wooden table that looks as if
it were once a castle door, where we discuss
the genesis of his company, its “One for One”
business model and his thoughts on combining entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
(and everywhere else)
STOCKLANDMARTEL.COM KWAKU ALSTON PHOTOGRAPHY
The Costco Connection: Your home
office is different from most corporate headquarters.
Blake Mycoskie: We try to use a lot of
reclaimed and repurposed materials. Any
time we can recycle and reuse, we try to, and
that’s why our [office] environment looks
very organic and homemade.
the company’s original slogan, “Shoes for
tomorrow,” was his response to the glaring
social need he observed. He says his trip to
Argentina was the catalyst for him to combine
his natural entrepreneurial bent with a strong
desire to make the world a better place.
During its first year, supported by sales
from the company website and retail stores
that carry TOMS Shoes, the company gave
10,000 pairs of shoes to children in Argentina.
As of this month, TOMS has given 1 million
pairs of new shoes to children in 25 countries.
(TOMS Shoes are not currently available at
Costco because the company’s production
capabilities can’t yet meet the demand Costco
would likely require.)
In 2007, TOMS Shoes received the
People’s Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Two years later, Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton presented Mycoskie
and TOMS with the 2009 Award for
Corporate Excellence, which recognizes companies’ commitment to corporate social
responsibility, innovation, exemplary practices and democratic values worldwide.
When I visit TOMS’ headquarters in July,
Mycoskie is sequestered somewhere in the
earthy construct frantically dealing with a
communications breakdown with partners
in Ethiopia. When he emerges, he explains
that podoconiosis—a debilitating ailment
that causes extreme swelling, ulcers and
deformity, especially in the legs—is prevalent
there. It’s caused by walking barefoot in sil-ica-heavy volcanic soil, a common practice in
rural farming regions of developing countries. However, the disease is preventable,
and even reversible, by wearing shoes and
practicing simple foot hygiene. That’s why
he’s a little late for our interview: He’s spent
CC: During your time in Argentina, when
you saw impoverished children with no shoes,
was there a moment that was the impetus that
became TOMS Shoes?
BM: I met these volunteer workers helping children get shoes by going around getting donations. It was very obvious to me that
these children needed shoes to go to school
and to protect their feet, but I wanted to
make sure the kids were going to get another
pair of shoes when those shoes wore out,
when they grew out of them.
I couldn’t really get a good grasp on how
that was going to happen. I don’t know philanthropy. I don’t have that background. But
I know how to start a business because I’m an
entrepreneur. I’ve started businesses since I
was young. And so, I thought, if I can start a
TOMS’ original line of shoes,
now called Classics, is modeled
after the alpargata, a rope-soled slipper that is common in
the area of Argentina company
founder Blake Mycoskie visited
when he conceived the notion
of TOMS Shoes. The product
line has expanded since then
to include Cordones, lightweight shoes that can be worn
with or without laces; Botas,
TOMS’ version of high-tops;
Stitchouts, a slip-on with
stitching around the top of the
sole; Wedges and Wrap Boots
for women; and Youth and Tiny
TOMS for children. The company offers many vegan-friendly material options in
many styles that use no animal
byproducts. The company also
sells T-shirts, hats and other
clothing items that are also
matched with a pair of new
shoes given to a child in need,
one for one.—WF
COUR TES Y OF TOMS SHOES
Despite the absence
of air conditioning and finished flooring,
there’s an unmistakable sense of optimism
and enthusiasm at TOMS Shoes headquarters
in Santa Monica, California.
COUR TESY OF TOMS SHOES
SEPTEMBER 2010 ;e Costco Connection 25