TOMS latest branch in Foubert’s Place, London, opens today. Wonderland went to meet Founder & Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie.
You’ve heard of TOMS. Or if you haven’t you’ve surely seen them. The craze for the canvas shoe kicked off after their company ethos message was spread worldwide. Charity is at the forefront of Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie’s mind. For every pair you buy, he gives a pair to someone in need.
The company was born nine years ago and has gone from strength to strength ever since. After an early appearance in Vogue, the brand has grown to a varied line of footwear and now they’re branching out in accessories and stores are popping up all over the place. We headed down to their Foubert’s Place opening to meet Blake Mycoskie and find out about TOMS.
Is this always what you thought you’d be doing?
When I was 19 I started my first business. Very quickly I realised I loved this idea of building stuff and creating stuff and building teams of people and I knew that I liked being an entrepreneur. I never thought I’d be able to be an entrepreneur and a philanthropist at the same time. I always thought you always built businesses and if you were successful you created great wealth and you spent your sixties and seventies being a philanthropist. I never imagined that I’d be able to create a business that was design oriented, fashion oriented and at the same time, giving oriented. It’s such a great thing to be able to do that and I never imagined I could do it.
Well you’re doing it very well! When did the idea for TOMS come to you?
It was nine years ago and I was in Argentina and I saw many kids without shoes and I wanted to give them shoes but I didn’t want to make a charity. So I said, “I’ll sell a pair of shoes, so I can give a pair of shoes.” The idea was that seemed like that was fair, if someone could afford to buy a pair of shoes, they should enjoy helping another person as well.
Your job title is ‘Founder & Chief Shoe Giver’, explain that to us…
I never liked titles very much at all so in the beginning of the company when we were hiring people, someone asked me what their title would be and I said, “Well you can just choose!” They asked me what mine was and I said, “It’s Chief Shoe Giver,” and that’s what it’s been ever since.
What’s your day to day routine?
I do a lot of this stuff, all over the world. I’m in the middle of a 32 day world tour where I visit 14 countries. I visit giving partners, I stay at home some and work with the staff. I don’t really have a single day to day, it’s a little bit of everything. I think my favourite area to focus on is really the brand vision and the giving side.
The TOMS look has become iconic very quickly, how did the first design come about?
The first design was based off an Argentine farming shoe actually! I made some changes to it, made it a little more comfortable, more fun colours and style. Other brands that have become very popular, Uggs for instance, that was based on an Australian farming shoe.
There’s a pattern emerging!
Look to the farmers for the next trend.
No more fashion week – just farmers! How has the company expanded, it’s only been nine years and everyone knows what TOMS are?
Nine years to me has been a long time because I’ve been working hard and it’s been a quarter of my life! I would say that a lot of it is because of the convergence of social media into our business model because so much of what we do is sharing our story. A big part of our success is that we have an authentic story and authentic stories spread very quickly online.
Have you seen the benefits of your charity work?
It’s really about helping kids and usually they need a pair of school shoes, so by helping them get shoes for school, you see the benefit of more kids in school and more kids in school is definitely creating a better tomorrow.
Where has been the most effected by your company?
I would say for buying, the US is number one, South Korea and the UK are the top three, it’s very exciting that this market is one of our top in the world. In terms of giving, we give in 65 countries, all over the world, we give all different types of shoes, cold weather boots and athletic shoes. It’s not necessarily one place.
How do you imagine your customer to be?
We have all different types of shoes now, we have wedges, we have brogues, fancier shoes for guys, we have casual, we have streetwear. I think the TOMS mission and the message of TOMS appeals to a wide variety of people. You could be a 70 year old guy and really believe you want all your purchases to be conscious and have meaning. You could be a teenage girl and want your fashion choices to represent your identity and your values. The idea of TOMS appeals to a lot of people and it’s our job on the design side to design a product that a lot of people can wear.
When did you realise it was all a success? Was there a particular moment?
Not particularly but the first big breakthrough was Vogue magazine did a feature on us after only four months of being in business. Everyone was talking about it and that was the first thing that really led to high growth. The key is just getting the people who wear the shoes to share the story because that’s going to reach the most people.
Words: Lily Walker.