Just over a decade on from the launch of TOMS in 2006, the unique footwear brand remains one of the most successful ethical brands in the world, most widely known for their “one for one” business model, which sees the brand donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. Finding inspiration for the venture on a trip to Argentina – as a budding entrepreneur, founder Blake Mycoskie was struck by not only the great popularity of the alpargata (a light canvas espadrille), but the extreme poverty in the country that meant that a lot of children don’t wear shoes at all. Upon his return to the US, he was determined to help those in need through his business and this is where the “one for one” concept was born.
In 2013, Neil Urwin joined the business, tasked with the objective of bringing sales in house, as well as setting up their first UK office.
Speaking to Drapers, Urwin said:
“That’s the thing about Toms, with every product we make, there’s a give behind it. A lot of companies do a similar thing now, which is great, but 11 years ago what Blake did was very unusual. It provides the backbone of the business. At the end of the week you can look back and say ” Yeah I think we’ve made a difference”.”
“One for One”
For every pair of TOMS shoes purchased, TOMS gives a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for one. It’s a beautifully simple idea, and one which has taken off to a far greater extent than Mycoski can possibly have ever imagined. To date, Toms has given away more than 70 million pairs of shoes to children in over 70 countries, making a real improvement to the lives of children living in poverty.
In fact, the company was initially named “Tomorrow’s Shoes”, based on the concept of “shoes for a better tomorrow”. It was later shortened to simply “Toms” and the rest is history.
Inspired by the traditional Argentine alpargata canvas shoe, Mycoskie re-invented the casual footwear for the US market and it wasn’t long before the brand developed a huge fanbase, as much for their huge range of colours and styles, as for their humanitarian credentials. Perfect for wear in warmer climates, the lightweight shoes are incredibly versatile, not to mention outstandingly comfortable.
Today, TOMS has expanded their business model to include sight restoring medical treatments and prescription glasses, as well as a clean water initiative, to provide safe water in countries where this is a real issue. The brand started their own eyewear line in 2011, following the same “one for one” concept as with their shoes – donating medical care and glasses for every pair of glasses they sell.
TOMS Roasting Co. was set up in 2014, marking their expansion into the coffee market. For each bag of TOMS coffee sold, they pledge to donate a week’s supply of safe water to a person in need, in the countries they source their coffee beans.
The latest of their ventures is the TOMS Bag Collection, which sees them helping expectant mothers in Bagladesh, India, Ethiopia and Haiti have safer births. Purchases of TOMS Bags help provide training for skilled birth attendants and distribute birth kits containing items that help a woman safely deliver her baby.
Get stuck in and take part in TOMS’ annual “One Day Without Shoes” event – A day where people are encouraged not to wear shoes throughout the day in order to raise awareness for clothing impoverished children. They also kickstarted “World Sight Day”, which highlights avoidable blindness and visual impairment.