Not all for-profit companies are really putting their emphasis on financially enriching themselves. Take the unique shoe company called Toms (or TOMS). This is a company that was built with helping other people in mind, a goal that TOMS really takes to heart.
It’s not unusual for a large company to take interest in charity work. However, TOMS is unique in the sense that it’s a for-profit venture, yet was founded on the principle of helping those in need. It’s hence worth delving into the history of this company and how it came to fulfill its initial goals:
The First Inspiration
The idea for this company came from American traveler Blake Mycoskie, after he took a holiday in Argentina in early 2006. During the latter part of his holiday, Mycoskie also started to do volunteer work in the outskirts of the country’s capital Buenos Aires. It was there that Mycoskie started to befriend the village kids and found out that they had no shoes to protect their feet from dirt, sharp rocks, or infection. From this experience, he experienced a strong desire to help them and any other child who didn’t have a decent pair of shoes.
The Classic TOMS design
Mycoskie had learned about the Argentinean alpargata, a simple slip-on shoe that has been worn by farmers for many centuries. Alpargatas are similar to espadrilles, which are also made of canvas or cotton fabric on the upper part while the flexible sole is made of rubber. Alpargatas were to become the main inspiration for TOMS classic shoe design.
Mycoskie then partnered with local shoe manufacturers in Argentina to make the initial pairs of shoes, which were modeled after the alpargatas. From there on, he began officially selling his line of shoes in May 2006. Mycoskie established TOMS with the main vision that for every pair of shoes purchased by a customer, TOMS will send a free new pair of shoes for a barefooted child in need. This business concept by Mycoskie has come to be popularly known as “One for One”.
The Eyewear Line
With the success of the company, TOMS also launched its eyewear line. Although TOMS sells its eyewear with the One for One model, it doesn’t necessarily mean that with every purchase of eyeglasses, a new set of eyeglasses will be given to people in need.
The case with eyeglasses is a bit different than with shoes when it comes to TOMS products. Rather, parts of the profits from eyewear sales will fund the restoration of sight (including medical treatment and surgery) for afflicted people in developing countries.
A Non-Profit Subsidiary
Although TOMS is basically a for-profit private entity, it has a non-profit subsidiary called “Friends of Toms”. ‘Friends of Toms’ is comprised of volunteers recruited by the company. These volunteer teams are utilized for carrying out the missions of the main company, especially when it comes to operating in under-developed or developing countries. TOMS itself is just like any other private corporation, only with a considerable philanthropic element. Their main focus is both on selling their products and fulfilling their humanitarian ideals to consumers at the same time.
Apart from the children in Argentina, kids in other countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, Guatemala, and South Africa as well as 50-odd other countries have also been given free footwear from TOMS. The company’s employees travel to these countries in order to personally donate these shoes to the children. As of 2011, Mycoskie’s TOMS has over 500 retail outlets worldwide. By 2012, more than two million TOMS shoes have been donated to children several underdeveloped and developing countries.
Dropping the Word “Shoes”
The idea behind TOMS shoes gained so much popularity and made the company so popular that they eventually dropped the word ‘shoes’ from their name altogether. This is only a logical step, as the company is now a behemoth of merchandising. It provides not just shoes and eyeglasses, but also sunglasses and coffee. When customers buy coffee from TOMS, for example, the company provides water in areas suffering from shortages and droughts.
The giving universe that revolves around TOMS is expanding as we speak. Now, their operations also include providing education, healthcare, nutrition, and other necessary facilities to needy people.
An Inspiration for Other Companies
Several social entrepreneurs such as Warby Parker have also started emulating the TOMS model. Warby Parker now offers the same buy one-give one model at a reasonable price online.
Other examples contain Out of Print, a clothing line that features book designs from rare books. This company does the charitable work of donating books whenever they sell some of their merchandise. There’s also Figs, a clothing producer for workers in the healthcare industry. When they sell any scrubs, a matching pair is given to healthcare professionals who’re working inside developing or underdeveloped countries.
The list for such socially responsible models goes on and on. Just a few more names include Bixby, Bombas, and Twice as Warm. These companies are providing scarves, hats, socks, backpacks, lunchboxes, and tops as a response to their customers’ patronage.
The Secret of Success
Traditional business ideas might not include the matter of social responsibility, but TOMS is proof that this model is a success. However, the success of this company may also be due to the rising consumer consciousness about spending. More and more people are now willing to spend in a more socially and environmentally responsible manner, wanting to accomplish some good in the world along with fulfilling their wants and needs.
There have even been studies that show how many American are now looking towards non-government businesses for taking the lead in social plus environmental change. Many also want business entities to play a role in cases of social justice. With this attitude combined with buying power, customers can strive to make a huge difference. Making TOMS a success is just one of the success stories in this regard.
TOMS and Blake Mycoskie stand as testaments that there are still good-hearted and generous people out there, willing open their hearts to give help to people who need it most. With companies like TOMS, it only takes a pair of shoes to fully restore our faith in humanity.