Toms' next chapter: Sunglasses
This post has been updated since its original publication.
Hand-painted, colorful striped sunglasses. That's the second chapter of Toms Shoes' one-for-one business.
"With every pair purchased, Toms will give someone sight," said Toms founder Blake Mycoskie.
Meaning that for every pair of sunglasses purchased, sight-saving medical treatment, prescription glasses or surgery will be donated to a person in need. The sunglasses are landing in stores today for $135 to $145 and come in three shapes and 22 color combinations. The 101s are a classic Wayfarer-like style, while the 201s are oversized, round Jackie O glasses, and the 301s are aviators with wood accents. Toms sunglasses are recognizable by the three painted stripes on the sides, which represent the one-for-one giving concept.
The scene at the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica on Tuesday morning was part rock concert, part political rally. Mycoskie made the announcement on stage in front of the Victorian-style museum building, with food trucks nearby and radio stations broadcasting live. About 150 people gathered on the grass to hear about the SoCal company's next step, many of them wearing Toms' signature colorful canvas shoes.
"From this day forward, Toms will no longer just be a shoe company, it will be a one-for-one company," Mycoskie said, before unveiling a video made in Nepal, with local people talking about the need to address visual impairment, in particular cataracts and blindness.
The medical treatment and surgery will be administered by a Toms partner, the Seva Foundation, which has helped give eye care to more than 3 million people in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. A leading global initiative to reduce blindness and visual impairment for the past 30 years, Northern California-based Seva also works with academic institutions in developing countries to train eye care specialists.
"Most every place that sells Toms can or will sell eyewear," said Mycoskie, adding that he plans to roll out two new eyewear collections each year, and envisions doing collaborations with artists and/or fashion designers on future styles.
In less than five years, the young, shaggy-haired, rope-bracelet-wearing Mycoskie has turned into a visionary business leader who hobnobs with Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. He founded Toms Shoes in Santa Monica in 2006, based on the simple idea that for every pair of canvas shoes you buy, a pair is given to a child in need.
He's given away 1 million pairs of shoes in the U.S., Argentina, Ethiopia and South Africa, working toward his goal of eradicating podoconiosis, a deforming foot disease caused by walking barefoot in silica-rich soil.
The shoes are sold at more than 500 stores nationwide and internationally, including at Nordstrom and Whole Foods, and many of Toms' existing retailers bought the eyewear collection sight unseen.
Mycoskie, a serial entrepreneur who quotes Richard Branson and the like, started with a college laundry service in 1997. It was so successful he dropped out of school to run it and followed it up with a billboard company, which he sold to Clear Channel. A failed reality-show network was next, then a successful drivers-education website.
In 2002, he and his sister Paige came in third on "The Amazing Race," and afterward they made a point of revisiting some of the places it had taken them. In 2006, Mycoskie returned to Argentina for a vacation, and in a bar he met some aid workers who were there to distribute shoes to the needy.
They were giving children old, ill-fitting shoes, but Mycoskie had a better idea. On that trip, he had fallen in love with the locally made canvas alpargatas, or espadrilles. Why not build a business around the laid-back shoes, he thought, selling a pair and donating a pair? He started with $500 and 250 prototypes, naming the brand Toms after the concept of shoes for "tom-orrow."
Starting today, the Toms-wearing world will have shades to match.
-- Booth Moore
Photo: Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie speaks Tuesday at the Toms eyewear product launch at the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica. Credit: Michael Kovac / Getty Images for Toms