Shopping at TOMS to help others

Summary: Blake Mycoskie is the Founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS, and the person behind the idea of One for One®, a business model that helps a person in need with every product purchased.
Where: California, U.S.A.
SDG 2030: Goal 10 Reduced inequalities
Founders: Blake Mycoskie
Impact: Millions of households in over 70 countries

Distinguished entrepreneurs live by the saying: ‘You give some, you take some.’ Texas-born reality TV-star, and social entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie takes this credo literally. His retail company ‘Shoes for Tomorrow Project’ or TOMS, founded in 2006, practises a business model that turns profit into development aid.

For every pair of shoes TOMS sells, the company will deliver a new pair of shoes to children in impoverished countries. Annually, millions of shoes are distributed in countries such as Malawi, Cambodia, Haiti and the U.S. The success enabled Blake to expand the concept. In addition to shoes, TOMS now sells eyeglasses (since 2011), coffee (since 2014) and, since last year, bags. With the revenue TOMS funds projects that restore eyesight to visually handicapped people in poverty-stricken areas.

Blake’s work hasn’t only garnered him praise. Charity organisations question his motives. They argue that TOMS targets at making consumers feel good about themselves in order to make more profit, rather than supporting sustainable aid projects. As a matter of fact, critics claim, TOMS undermines the growth of local retail stores by dumping free shoes, pens, clothing and eyeglasses in development countries. 

In response to the criticism Blake admitted that ‘in an ideal world, it’s better to teach people how to fish, than to hand out fish for free.’ Then again, he argued that at least he is making an effort to improve the world instead of just standing on the side line. ‘We took the criticism by heart and sought ways to create more impact. By 2016, we were sourcing in countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and India. That way, we didn’t need to pay for shipping costs, we were using local materials, creating jobs, satisfying a ton of critics and we were more cost efficient in getting the shoes to the ones who needed them the most.’   

In transferring 50 percent of the supply chain to poor countries ‘where workers were paid a fair salary’, Blake stimulated economic development: ‘In two years we increased the production of shoes in these countries from 25 to 50 percent. ‘And’, he added, ‘it made us more money.’  

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