Interview: TOMS Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie on Entrepreneurship and Social Responsibility


blake_argentin_toms_shoes_socialnerdiaGuest post by Jon Gipson.

After befriending children with no shoes in Argentina, Blake Mycoskie decided he wanted to help. He started TOMS Shoes in 2006 with a simple idea: With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One." The shoes were designed after the Argentine "alpargata" and 10,000 pairs were sold in the first year. The company has given away over 150,000 pairs of shoes to kids all over the world.

At the young age of 33, Blake has not only created an admirable brand, but he has also built a platform that allows anyone to provide a basic need to those that are often forgotten and ignored.

1. I love your quote: "I don't want to be remembered for what I did, but what I gave away." Have you always had this philosophy or did it develop over time?

kids-toms-shoes_socialnerdiaAs you grow and have different experiences, you learn what you want out of your life and what direction you will pursue. The things I have learned and people I have met over time have shaped my philosophy and have guided me to where I am now.

2. Designing a new type of shoe, starting a non-profit and building a brand that incorporates both seems like a lot to take on, did you ever consider partnering with a brand that already existed?

TOMS was such a unique model from the start, and we broke the mold in some respects of how most businesses operate, so we wanted to show others that this idea of incorporating giving could work on its own. It’s great now to be at a point where we can do some amazing collaborations with other brands like Ralph Lauren, Element Skateboards and even Dave Matthews Band.

toms-shoes_socialnerdia3. What goes into the planning and execution of a shoe drop?

Our team in Argentina partners with hard-working non-profits to ensure the shoes get to the right communities around the world. We also have a team at our HQ in Santa Monica that organizes the Shoe Drop Tour experience for volunteers.

4. You’ve mentioned how a simple pair of shoes really empowers others to “go places” and obtain education, work, etc. Are there any plans for TOMS to expand into global initiatives around clean water, AIDS prevention, malnutrition, etc.?

socialnerdia_girls_toms_shoesWe recognize there are other needs in the world, and look forward to the day when we can address them. Giving shoes helps empower individuals to rise up and begin addressing these issues within their own communities as well.

5. Having done relief work both near and far, how have the US shoe drops changed your perspective in regards to poverty here at home?

I’ve realized that the need in the United States is very different than our international efforts. For the US Shoe Drops, just being a friend for a day or engaging in a real conversation with those children has a huge impact. We bring white canvas TOMS to the children in the US to participate in a Style Your Sole, where the kids can express themselves and decorate their own pair of TOMS. One of the Spring Vagabonds came with us to New Orleans this past March. After helping a child color his shoes he told her, "You are the nicest person I've ever met." What could be better than that?

blake_TED_socialnerdia6. While others are making wins in the area of technology you seem to have taken a "back to the basics" approach when it comes to businesses built around laundry service, billboards, and shoes. Why do you think it's worked out so well?

TOMS has been successful because the concept is simple and people can relate to it. There are no complicated formulas; with every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One.

7. You’ve mentioned that a lot of your ideas and inspiration come from Richard Branson. Why him?

Richard Branson started off as a young entrepreneur and has successfully launched numerous companies under the Virgin brand. He has created a solid, consistent brand that everyone recognizes. I want to take TOMS to that level!


Please make sure to learn more about TOMS Shoes. You can also tweet them @TOMSshoes and @BlakeMycoskie.

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