I stopped into the Toms Shoes pop-up store in Venice on Friday to reconnect with the brand’s founder Blake Mycoskie. I was one of the first people to write about him back in 2006. A former contestant on “The Amazing Race” reality show, he was just returning to L.A. from Argentina, where he’d gone to relax, play polo and volunteer. Inspired by poverty in the country and by the traditional Argentine rope-soled canvas “alpargata” shoes, he'd created a business. The model? For every pair of Toms shoe sold in the states, he would donate a pair to a child in need in South America or Africa.
Since then, he has given away more than 200,000 pairs of shoes, many on “shoe drops” in Ethiopia and Argentina. Next year, his goal is to give away 300,000 more. The shoes come in a variety of colors, prints and plaids (including glitter for the holidays) and are affordable, at about $48 a pair. They are sold online at tomsshoes.com and at stores such as Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters. And you can’t help but feel good about buying them. Not that Mycoskie’s making a profit — yet. That’s for 2009.
Still, I think Mycoskie, who lives on a sailboat in the marina (how cool is that?) and works in Santa Monica, is at the forefront of a new kind of conscientious consumerism. He never went to college but is a natural-born entrepreneur who likes to talk about everyone from Richard Branson to Ralph Lauren, with whom he recently collaborated on a limited edition line of Toms. And he pays for his employees, all 30 of them, to go on shoe drops with him around the world -- so they believe in the product as much as he does.
It’s no wonder that former President Clinton became such a fan he invited Mycoskie to join his Global Initiative annual meeting in September — and gifted all the world leaders who participated with a pair of Toms shoes!
Check them out for yourself at tomsshoes.com or TOMS Pop-Up store, 1617 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (800) 975-TOMS.
-- Booth Moore
Photos: Top, Toms Pop-Up Store, and bottom, Toms glitter shoes. Credit: Toms