Tuesday 16 April is the TOMS ‘one day without shoes’. TOMS, founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie in Santa Monica, California is a shoe company with a difference. The company designs and sells shoes based on the Argentine ‘alpargata’ design that Mycoskie first encountered whilst a participant on the second season of the Amazing Race with his sister in 2002. Motivated by the plight of children unable to afford shoes, and the resultant health risks that ensued, Mycoskie launched TOMS (which stands for ‘tomorrow’ and derived from the ‘shoes for tomorrow project’) with the idea that for every pair of TOMS bought, another pair would be donated to needy children. In May 2006 an initial batch of 250 shoes went on sale and following an article in the Los Angeles Times, the company received online orders for nine times that amount. Within six months the company had sold 10 000 pairs of TOMS. In October 2006, true to his word, the first batch of TOMS – equivalent to the total number sold, was distributed to children in Argentina. Since then the reach has stretched to several other countries, including Ethiopia, Haiti, Guatemala and South Africa.
In 2007 the company launched an annual ‘One Day Without Shoes’ event where adherents do not wear shoes throughout the day in order to raise awareness for TOMS’ mission for clothing impoverished children. By 2011 over 500 retailers were carrying the brand globally; that year it also launched its eye wear line. By 2012 over two million pairs of new shoes had been given to children in developing countries around the world. The Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the University of New Mexico describes the company as, “a for-profit business with a philanthropic component”.
Author Daniel Pink described the TOMS business model as “expressly built for purpose maximization”. TOMS is both selling shoes and selling its ideal – creating consumers that are purchasing shoes and also making a purchase that transforms them into benefactors. Another phrase used to try and describe the unique business model that is TOMS is, “caring capitalism”.
It is an inspiring story and an example of the possibilities created when ‘profit meets non-profit’. A couple of years ago, my Godchild, inspired by the TOMS story took the ‘one day without shoes’ concept to her school. The result was an entire school mobilized resulting in over a 1000 pairs of shoes being donated by the scholars. I am sure they also enjoyed the novelty (for them) of attending school barefoot!
In TomorrowToday we have traditionally adhered to ‘one day without shoes’ often with memorable consequences. If the day involves a fairly ‘safe’ schedule then it becomes relatively easy to walk around barefoot. I recall needing to be at a ‘blue chip’ client once on a freezing April day in Johannesburg and walking around with no shoes and my blue feet certainly became a talking point in their office! Today I will be on a plane that might prove to be an interesting experience – I am not even sure I will be allowed to board barefoot but I shall soon find out!
If you are reading this today (Tuesday 16th April) and still have your shoes on…well, why not remove them right now? It is for a good cause and who knows just what your action might lead to in making a difference?