In an age of soaring corporate profits and bloated CEO salaries it may seem like fantasy for a company to put charity before profit. In this Breakout profile, we meet TOMS. On the surface they look like just another trendy footwear company, but for every pair of shoes TOMS sells, a pair gets donated to a kid in need. Last month, after less than seven years in business, they donated their ten millionth pair.
The company’s founder and “chief shoe giver” Blake Mycoskie started the company after vacationing in Argentina in 2006. He competed in there with his sister as a part of CBS’ “The Amazing Race” in 2002, but it was when Mycoskie returned that he met a group of aid workers collecting used shoes and handing them out to children who had none.
“I saw the absolute joy that these kids got and their families got and the gratitude from a simple pair of shoes,” Mycoskie explains in the attached video, “and that’s when I really wanted to do more to help.”
He started small. Mycoskie brought back 250 pairs of shoes from that first trip. They were modeled after a traditional Argentinian shoe called an "alpargata." The plan was to sell them on the boardwalk near his Venice, California home, go back to Argentina with the profits, and make shoes to donate to the kids he saw on his trip.
“I said if we sell a pair of shoes today, we can give away a pair tomorrow and we’ll call them 'tomorrow's shoes,'” Mycoskie explains, “but tomorrow is too long for the little tag, [we] shortened it to TOMS, and of course people have called me Tom ever since.”
Business has exploded since those first 250 pairs of shoes and here are three things you may not know about this philanthropic company, even if you're wearing a pair as you read this.
1. TOMS has no advertising budget
Success came by word of mouth and profiles in publications like the L.A. Times and Vogue. The company has succeeded without outside investors and has never had to buy an ad. “It allows us to stay focused on our mission,” says Mycoskie, “and also allows us to have a long-term vision. That’s a very rare situation in business.”
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