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Interview: Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS

As TOMS opens its first Malaysian store in Pavilion KL, we speak to the man behind the fashion-charity label

By Andrea Tim | Published: 15 Jul 2014

Blake Mycoskie
Photo: Blake Mycoskie

Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS on the basis of keeping children healthy and educated, using shoes as his driving force. Famous for its one for one business model, TOMS has also ventured into eyewear to restore sight for people in need, as well as a partnership with Water for People. We managed to catch up with the former The Amazing Race contestant to find out how much TOMS has changed the world.

How did you start TOMS? Was your philanthropic philosophy already in place at the conception of the company?
Back in 2006, when I returned home from Argentina, I told all of my friends and family, and pretty much anyone who would listen, about my trip: how I went to Buenos Aires to relax and learn to play polo; how I discovered the alpargata, a shoe that had been worn by Argentine farmers and polo players for more than 100 years; how I went on a volunteer "shoe drive" where used shoes were being collected from wealthy families and given to children in the surrounding villages; and how my goal was to create a for-profit business, not a charity, that would give two hundred and fifty pairs of new shoes to the children that I had met. I wanted to do something, but I had no experience in charity. That's kind of the irony of all this: The reason I started TOMS as a business, not a charity, is because I hated the idea of asking people for donations and then wondering if I was going to continue to get the donations. I felt a business would be a lot more predictable way to set up continuous giving.

How much are you involved in the product design aspect?
When I travel to visit our Giving Partners, I'm constantly inspired by fabrics and shoe styles around the world. Whether it's unique boots in Nepal, beautifully crafted flats in India or colourful abrics (coats) from Guatemala, I like introducing these to our design team to consider ways we can integrate them into our seasonal design concepts.

How much do you feel that the TOMS one for one concept helps poverty as a whole?
We have amazing Giving Partners that integrate our shoes into their pre-existing health and education programs. Sight giving is even more remarkable- restoring someone's sight can allow them to re-enter the workforce, bringing additional income to their household. Our newest brand extension, TOMS Roasting Co., uses direct or fair trade certification, so the farmers are guaranteed a fair price for their beans regardless of market fluctuations. Our partnership with Water For People allows us to work with the local government, businesses and community members to understand the need for water in a given area and together, we help build or repair a needed water system. This was so important to us. We wanted TOMS Roasting Co. to invest in long-term water systems that could bring about real change in a community.

How do you see TOMS expanding in terms of being a footwear label, and as a philanthropic effort?
My vision for TOMS and what our impact can be around the world is to allow customers to give back through all kinds of products. It was really important to me that the third One for One product be something that was very disruptive and would cause people to think about TOMS in that way. This is just the beginning for us, and we look forward to continuing this movement and helping those in need every day.

In your opinion, what other brand or organisation would TOMS be suited to work with?
The great thing about expanding our product offerings into such different categories is the potential for us to align with so many amazing brands. We can potentially work with like-minded partners on footwear, eyewear and coffee collaborations. As we continue to grow, the possibilities are endless.

How does TOMS identify which child the company sends a pair of shoes to?
We relay a lot of trust in our Giving Partners to use our shoes in a way that makes the most sense for the community they're in. We have an outstanding team in-house that is completely devoted to working with these partners on a daily basis and making sure our shoes are given in a responsible, sustainable fashion.

Will you venture into other types of apparel or accessories in the future?
I definitely see the possibility for us to grow in that category; I think it's a natural step. Stay tuned!

TOMS opens its first store in Pavilion KL on July 2014.


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