Not all for-profit companies are really putting their emphasis on financially enriching themselves. Take this unique shoe company called Toms (or TOMS). A company built with helping other people in mind, which TOMS really takes it to heart.
The idea came from American traveler Blake Mycoskie who took a holiday in Argentina in early 2006. Later in his holiday Mycoskie also started to do volunteer work in the outskirts of the country’s capital Buenos Aires. It was there where Mycoskie started to befriend the village kids, and found out that they had no shoes to protect their feet from dirt, sharp rockes or infection. From this experience he felt a strong desire to help them.
Mycoskie had learned about the Argentinian alpargata, a simple slip-on shoe that has been worn by the farmers for many centuries. Alpargatas are similar to espadrilles, which is also made of canvas or cotton fabric on the upper part while its flexible sole is made of rubber. Alpargatas were to become the main inspiration for TOMS classic design of its shoes.
He partnered with local shoe manufacturers in Argentina to make the initial pairs of shoes, modeled after the alpargatas; he began officially selling his line of shoes in May 2006. Mycoskie established TOMS with the main vision that with every pair of shoes purchased by the customer, TOMS will send a free new pair of shoes to be given to every barefooted child in need. This very business concept by Mycoskie has come to be popularly known as One for One.
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, just like in the case of the shoes. Rather, parts of the profits from eyewear sales will fund the restoration of sight (including medical treatment and surgery) to affected people in developing countries.
Although TOMS is basically a for-profit private entity, it has a non-profit subsidiary called Friends of Toms – meaning that by selling its products TOMS sustains itself so that it continues to give. Friends of Toms is composed of volunteers recruited by the company in order to carry out their missions especially in under-developed/developing countries. TOMS is just like any other private corporation, only with a considerable philanthropic element – selling the products and at the same time its humanitarian ideals to consumers.
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. The company’s employees travel to these countries to personally donate these shoes to the children. As of 2011, Mycoskie’s TOMS has over 500 retail outlets worldwide, and as of 2012 more than two millions TOMS shoes have been donated to children several underdeveloped and developing countries.
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. For TOMS, it only takes a pair of shoes to fully restore our faith in humanity.