The real story behind TOMS shoes

TOMS are so trendy because they have a simple but powerful idea behind them.

Joshua Rainey Photography | Shutterstock

They say that fashion is all about superficiality, but if we go a little deeper, we can find wonderful examples like this one.

Eleven years ago, Blake Mycoskie (who at the time was just 30 years old) traveled from the United States to Argentina on vacation. His plan was to play polo and enjoy different landscapes, but when he visited the northern region of the country he saw not a few children in extreme poverty, most of them barefoot and with wounds on their feet.

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This moved him deeply, and he got together with some local social workers to see what he could do to help those children. At the same time, he learned about the most typical footwear of the region: alpargatas. A slip on close toe shoe made of breathable canvas.

One new favorite shoe, 6 different colors. Which color should we wear today? #TOMS

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This was how Mycoskie created TOMS Shoes (whose name is a reference to “tomorrow”), a company dedicated to manufacturing different kinds of shoes, priced between $40 and $120. Part of the money from each sale is used so that for every pair that the company sells to you, it can donate an identical pair to a child in need in Argentina or Africa.

While being interviewed by Bill Clinton, Mycoskie explained that he preferred to create a business instead of an NGO (nongovernmental organization) for reasons of sustainability: “If it were an NGO, we would depend on donations, and maybe people who donated the first year wouldn’t do it the second because they would have chosen another cause.”

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He added that he hardly invests anything in publicity, so that his company (which is a business, after all) can make a profit at the same time as making a social contribution.

But even though it has donated more than 40 million pairs of shoes, many expert economists have criticized it. For example, in 2014, Forbes quoted an economics professor from NYU who said that it was “the worst charity in development,” because it doesn’t address the root of the problem, and could even end up affecting local shoe production in the areas where they are distributed.

Mycoskie took this and other critiques with a notable humility, and in fact accepted that they were right on certain points. He took a variety of new measures, such as creating a manufacturing company in Haiti that only hires residents of the island. In addition, he has applied his “One for One” philosophy to other products, such as potable water and sunglasses (when you buy TOMS eyewear, it helps a person in need get a full eye exam and any needed treatment, including prescription glasses, sight-saving surgery, and eye medical care).

Get quirky with #TOMS Fin Sunglasses now available in Peach Crystal.

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And he has thought hard about how to take care of his own employees around the world, too: offering them fair maternity and paternity leave (12 weeks), and even took the time himself when his family began to grow. “Little did I know just how much I’d grow—as a dad, a husband, and an executive—in those three short months,” Mycoskie said of his paternity leave in Glamour magazine.

Similarly, new initiatives have arisen inspired by the TOMS concept, such as Mealshare, a Canadian company that helps feed those most in need by means of a chain of solidarity among various restaurants and their customers. And it’s a trend so many of us want to see continue. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything we wear on a daily basis, besides creating jobs for people, also were to help people in need?

Need a new pair of shoes?

Here are a few of the latest creations from TOMS, all worth your wallet:

Inspired by the red canyons of the American west, this classic alpargata design is super comfy. Canyon Clay Canvas women’s classic, $55, TOMS
These gray chambray dot flats keep your feet cute and comfy, but low profile. Women’s jutti flats, $84, TOMS
These versatile kicks have a unique suede braided detail and look amazing with jeans. Pale pink suede Lenox sneakers, $89, TOMS
Add some color to your steps with this cool crochet pattern. Multi tie-dye crochet women’s espadrilles, $59, TOMS
This chic spring heel made of natural yarn will go with everything. Natural Yarn Dye women’s majorca cutout sandals, $89, TOMS
Looking for something a little dressier? TOMS has expanded their line into pretty peep-toes. Drizzle Grey Woven Stella peep-toe wedges, $75, TOMS

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Adriana Bello
Adriana Bello

Adriana is the editor-in-chief of a fashion and lifestyle magazine in Venezuela. She believes elegance is a matter of good taste, not money. Her fashion icon is Coco Chanel but most of the time she feels like Bridget Jones.

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