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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

TOMS shoes creator discusses mission

Blake Mycoskie went to Argentina to play polo, take tango lessons and sip red wine.

He didn't expect to come up with the idea for a company that would change his life.

Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair it sells, told his story and offered advice about starting businesses to an audience of about 1,000 at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Wednesday night.

Mycoskie said he came up with his idea after tagging along with a group of volunteers doing a shoe drive in Argentina.

He watched the volunteers get onto their hands and knees and place used shoes collected from wealthy families onto the feet of poor Argentinian children.

"I remember just feeling so touched by the passion and the compassion they had for these kids," Mycoskie said.

But Mycoskie realized that charity alone would not be able to fund new shoes for these children.

He said relying on business would offer a better long-term solution.

He eventually returned to Argentina and spent three weeks with a friend making 250 pairs of the original TOMS Shoes.

Mycoskie said TOMS is short for tomorrow, representing the company's idea of selling a pair of shoes today in order to give a pair away tomorrow.

Coverage in the LA Times, Vogue, People and TIME helped boost the profile of TOMS, which began with Mycoskie and three interns in his apartment and now has factories in Argentina, China and Ethiopia.

Mycoskie said the company hands out shoes in about 13 countries to children who need them for school or have foot diseases.

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Mycoskie said his experience with TOMS has shown him the power an idea can have.

He told the audience about the benefits of having a business model focusing on giving back rather than making a profit.

Mycoskie saw a woman wearing a pair of TOMS at JFK International Airport in New York. When he asked her about the shoes, she started telling him the company's story, not realizing he was its founder.

"Literally she was telling me my life story word for word," Mycoskie said.

He said seeing the passion in this one customer showed him that his company did not need advertising in order to spread its message and could instead rely on its customers as its main marketers.

Mycoskie also said that having a service-oriented business attracts dedicated, experienced employees looking for jobs.

TOMS offers an experience that employees can get passionate about and feel as a cause or a mission, he said.

Mycoskie told students in the audience that companies look for employees who have a passion for volunteering and service.

His company's philanthropic mission has also helped to attract business partners, including Ralph Lauren.

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