Blake Mycoskie is an American entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. He is the Founder of TOMS and the man responsible for the brand’s unique One for One model. The model uses business to improve lives and is created to promote corporate responsibility and conscious consumerism. At TOMS, the brand provides a new pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of shoes sold.
Blake Mycoskie was born in Arlington, Texas, to an orthopaedic surgeon and an author. He completed his education and launched his first business, EZ Laundry. The company soon expanded, ultimately employing more than 40 people, servicing three universities, and generating approximately $1 million in sales.
He then dabbled into various successful ventures, including co-founding a cable network reality central and creating DriversEd Direct, an online driver’s education service, amongst others. However, this all changed in 2006 when Mycoskie took some time off work for a long-due vacation.
Towards the end of his trip, Mycoskie met an American woman in a café volunteering for a shoe drive, a new concept to him at the time. He recalled, “She explained that many kids lacked shoes, even in relatively well-developed countries like Argentina, an absence that didn’t just complicate every aspect of their lives including essentials like attending school and getting water from the local well but also exposed them to a wide range of diseases.” Her organization helped collect shoes from donors and supplied them to kids in need. However, the organization entirely depended on donations and had little control over the supply. So even when they did receive generous donations in sufficient quantities, they were often not in the correct sizes that they needed, which meant that many of the children were left barefoot even after the shoe drop-offs.
Mycoskie said, “It dramatically heightened my awareness. Yes, I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that poor children around the world often went barefoot, but now, for the first time, I saw the real effects of being shoeless: the blisters, the sores, the infections.”
He learned that many children in Argentina and Ethiopia were shoeless and had a significant risk of contracting a disease. Mycoskie said, “In Ethiopia, kids are at a risk of contracting Podoconiosis, a disease that can cause the feet and legs to swell to dangerous proportions. Kids get it from walking barefoot on volcanic soil.”
All this motivated Mycoskie until he had a sudden epiphany; he said, “I thought to myself, I’m going to start a shoe company, and for every pair I sell, I’m going to give one pair to a kid in need.”. It was a simple concept: Sell a pair of shoes today, give a pair of shoes tomorrow.
Mycoskie said, “Something about the idea felt so right, even though I had no experience, or even connections, in the shoe business. I did have one thing that came to me almost immediately: a name for my new company. I called it TOMS. I’d been playing around with the phrase ‘Shoes for a Better Tomorrow,’ which eventually became ‘Tomorrow’s Shoes,’ then TOMS.”
Mycoskie then approached his Polo Teacher, Alejo Nitti and asked if he would join the mission; he readily agreed, and TOMS was born. They began working out of Alejo’s family barn and tried finding local shoemakers to employ. After endless scouting, they finally found a local shoemaker named Jose. Soon they started collaborating with other artisans, Mycoskie recalled, “all working out of dusty rooms outfitted with one or two old machines for stitching the fabric and littered with bits and pieces of cloth, surrounded by roosters, burros, and iguanas. These people had been making the same shoes the same way for generations, so they looked at my designs — and me — with understandable suspicion.”
With the final product ready, Mycoskie packed up some shoes, went to American Rag and asked for the shoe buyer. He recalled fondly, “After explaining the concept to her, she realized that TOMS was more than just a shoe. It was a story. And the buyer loved the story as much as the shoe — and knew she could sell both of them.”
Shortly afterwards, Booth Moore, a renowned fashion writer for the Los Angeles Times, heard about TOMS and captured the brand’s essence on the front page of the Times’ Calendar section. By the end of the day, the brand had secured 2,200 orders on their website.
Soon the brand was covered by LA Times, Vogue Magazine, Time, People, Elle, and Teen Vogue, leading to great publicity for TOMS. Their retail customer base expanded beyond Los Angeles stores and became global; celebrities like Tobey Maguire, Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson were spotted around town wearing TOMS.
From there on, the brand flourished; in 2009, Mysockie and TOMS received the Secretary of State’s Award of Corporate Excellence (ACE). In 2014, Mycoskie was honoured with an invite by Richard Branson to join The B Team, a group of worldwide leaders that support and promote a better way of doing business. They advocated for the well-being of people and the planet.
To date, TOMS has provided more than 35 million pairs of shoes to children in 70 countries across the world. Following the success of this business model, Mycoskie expanded the One for One model to other products as well. In 2011, the company introduced eyewear. While it followed the principle of philanthropy as in the shoe business, it was slightly different in execution. Instead of donating a pair of glasses for every pair sold, TOMS would use part of the profit from that sale to save or restore a person’s eyesight in developing countries. To date, TOMS Eyewear has helped restore sight to more than 275,000 people.
Mycoskie has a long list of awards and achievements. Harvard’s School of Public Health awarded Mycoskie its Next Generation Award. The award honours individuals under 40 whose leadership and commitment to health as a human right inspires young people to make ‘health for all’ a global priority. In 2016, Mycoskie was awarded the Cannes LionHeart Award for his positive impact through the innovative use of brand power. Additionally, Mycoskie and TOMS have been featured in several publications, including Inc., Time and Fortune.
In 2015, Mycoskie founded the Social Entrepreneurship Fund, which invests in innovative and socially conscious companies that exist to create change. To date, the fund has invested in 15 for-profit companies in industries ranging from technology and education to food equality.
In conclusion, Mycoskie said, “If you just go out and try to make money by starting a business, you’re going to come up with something that’s just like what everyone else has done. But if you look at the world and see opportunities that can be taken more seriously, then you come up with a great idea.”