TOMS expands with more gifts that give back


In an age of soaring corporate profits and bloated CEO salaries it may seem like fantasy for a company to put charity before profit. But that’s just what TOMS and CEO Blake Mycoskie are doing. 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. Earlier this year, after less than seven years in business, they donated their ten millionth pair.

But they didn’t stop there. In November, Mycoskie, who wanted to spread TOMS’ model across more businesses, launched “TOMS Marketplace.” He and his team found 30 companies selling 200 different products. What they have in common is a blend of charitable values and business savvy.  The combination is TOMS special sauce.  

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The new site offers things like headphones with proceeds going to help people get their hearing back, necklaces that help women in Uganda get "consistent income, training and counseling," and a bicycle that helps provide clean drinking water in developing countries.

But Mycoskie and his team aren't closing up shop now that Santa has returned to the North Pole. Every season the site will offer a new line of products with more charities to help. So while Christmas gift giving may be over now, remember to check back for mom's birthday in June.

While TOMS continues to grow with new projects like this, they have also stayed true to their roots with a big focus on their original shoe driven model.

Mycoskie started the company after vacationing in Argentina in 2006. He competed 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, “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.

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“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 what started in Argentina has now spread to more than 60 countries around the world. Not surprisingly, Mycoskie says it's not just about shoe donation; he's trying to have a positive impact on local economies as well.

“One of the things we’re working on doing over the next couple of years is creating more jobs in the countries where we give shoes," he says. "My goal is by the end of 2015 that a third of our giveaway shoes will be made in-country.”

Mycoskie is also seeking to make TOMS' pace of donation more robust, setting his sights on donating another ten million pairs of shoes in less than two years. Not bad for the 37-year-old businessman from Texas.




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