It’s amazing how one person, one company, one organization with a mission can create such a tremendous movement in such little time, if they are truly passionate about their cause, and have a strategy to make it happen.
Toms is one of those companies.
I had the pleasure of seeing the company’s founder, the oh-so-endearing Blake Mycoskie, speak at a fundraising conference several weeks ago and what he had to say has had such a huge impact on me in the time since. You’ve heard of Toms by now, right? I ask because sitting there in a room full of thousands of fundraisers, I was astonished at how many of them had not. The thing is, this guy operates his business, and understands the unending nature of the needs he works to meet, in a way that so many non-profits miss the mark on.
It’s funny how some things happen.
As he tells it, Mycoskie was on a sort of soul-searching trip in South America, feeling burnt out with his current business venture and needing some time away. While enjoying an afternoon at one of the wineries in Argentina, he overheard a small group of people talking about the shoe drive they were coordinating for the next day and struck up conversation with them. Blake joined them for their shoe drive and, after a day of asking for shoe donations and delivering them to those in need, he felt good and was ready to move on with his trip, feeling like he’d accomplished something, helped someone less fortunate.
As they were wrapping up, one of the shoe drive coordinators said, this is good, but what happens when the kids grow out of these shoes, or they get holes and are unwearable? And therein lies the million dollar question—the question that would shape the future company.
“Did we actually do good, or did we just make ourselves feel good?”
And thus, Toms was born. As Blake will tell you, giving feels good, and that’s a good thing. It’s also good for business. Seeing an issue with actually meeting the needs of these shoeless children in Argentina, and knowing there were/will be many more throughout the world, Blake knew a one-time shoe drive really wasn’t doing much good. To affect change, there had to be a sustainable business model. One that could produce results for years to come, without depending on the deep pockets of a few wealthy individuals or corporations to keep the doors open and the charity flowing.
By building a for-profit company, with a heart for creating change, Toms operates on a one for one model which allows the company to generate enough revenue to sustain company production, and further spur growth, while allowing them to donate shoes at the same level. For every pair of shoes purchased, a pair of shoes is donated. The purchasers essentially become the benefactors. And what’s not to love about that?
Still not convinced? Within just five months of selling its first pair of shoes out of Blake’s apartment, they had sold 10,000 and completed their first shoe drop in Argentina. By September of 2010, just four years later, Toms had sold 1 Million pairs of shoes, and donated as many throughout the world.
Tomorrow, April 5th, is Toms’ annual One Day Without Shoes. The company has an army of believers who have signed on to go without shoes for the day, or at least part of it, in order to spur conversation about the issues that come with not wearing shoes. This conversation, in turn, will hopefully cause more to spring to action which, therefore, results in change.
It’s so easy for us to feel like such small fish in the gigantic pond of life, and that we as individuals just can’t affect change on a major scale. But then someone comes along to prove us wrong by showing us that they did it, and maybe, just maybe, we can too.
Will you be wearing shoes tomorrow?
all photos courtesy of Toms.