Brand Stories: TOMS Shoes

TOMS Shoes is a footwear brand that is credited with popularizing the “one-for-one” selling format. It all started in 2006, when serial entrepreneur and former Amazing Race contestant Blake Mycoskie travelled to Argentina, a country that he had briefly experienced while on the reality game show. In Argentina, he was fascinated by the “alpargata”, a versatile shoe worn extensively throughout the country. His discovery planted an initial seed in his mind that there may be a market for such a shoe in the United States.

Towards the end of his trip, Mycoskie was enlightened by an American volunteer about the reality of how many children throughout Argentina were in need of shoes. Her organization worked to provide these shoes through donations, but as this is an unreliable and uncontrollable means of procurement, many children remained barefoot because the organization had not received enough shoes in their size.

After travelling with the volunteer and her party to villages that were in need of shoes and witnessing first-hand the dangerous infections, painful sores, and social limitations that result from living barefoot, Mycoskie was ultimately moved to create a sustainable solution to this deficit. Despite having no connections within the apparel industry, Mycoskie determined that he would form a business that sold alpagarta-like slippers to Americans and, in turn, donated a fitted pair to a child in need. The name of this new brand came from the phrase “Tomorrow’s Shoes” – which became TOMS.

Mycoskie worked with Argentinian craftsmen to create modified alpagartas, and brought prototypes back to Los Angeles, where his first retail customer was American Rag. The shoe buyer was charmed by the brand’s story, and felt confident that shoppers would be equally moved. The story soon caught the attention of a fashion writer for the Los Angeles Times, whose article on the shoes set off a publicity chain that led to spreads in Vogue, Elle, People, and Time. Buyers from major national retailers such as Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters flocked to place sizeable orders, and by the end of the business’s first summer, TOMS had sold 10,000 pairs of shoes.

Since those initial days, TOMS has expanded their reach tremendously. Today they give shoes to children in over 70 countries, totaling over 60 million pairs of shoes. They have also entered other categories, including eyeglasses via TOMS Eyewear and clean water via TOMS Roasting Co. In 2015, TOMS also got involved with advocating for safer births for women in the developing world with TOMS Bag Collection, the profits from which help train midwives and distribute birth kits to expecting mothers.

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