Blake Mycoskie started his shoe business Toms by accident.
Traveling to Argentina to learn polo in 2006, he met some women in a bar who were in the country to donate shoes to children and he offered to help distribute them. When he returned to the polo ranch, his teacher Alejo Nitti asked him a fundamental question: “Who’s going to give them the next pair?” Kids’ feet grow fast. “What (do) we have to do to continue doing this?” Nitti said, speaking to “The Brave Ones. ”
“I recognized in that question that was the problem with this kind of nonprofit charitable giving model, at least… these women had to spend weeks getting enough shoes that would last these kids for a few months,” Mycoskie told “The Brave Ones.”
Then he had an idea. “What if I sold these really cool shoes that I had only seen in Argentina to my friends back in California, and every time I sold a pair, I would also make another pair to give to one of these kids? It just seemed like the simplest idea in the world,” he said.
The two worked with a local manufacturer to produce the espadrille-style shoes, which Mycoskie called Toms, because “Tomorrow’s Shoes” wouldn’t fit on a label. He took a few pairs back to his California home to ask women what they thought, knowing little about fashion, before designer store American Rag agreed to sell them. On its first “shoe drop,” the company gave 10,000 pairs away to children in Argentina.
Now, more than 60 million pairs of shoes have been donated to children, and the company has also applied its one-for-one model to eyewear and water. In 2014, Mycoskie sold a 50 percent stake in the business to Bain Capital, valuing the company at an estimated $625 million, and likely making him more than $300 million. But his original aim was more about doing good.
“We literally had created karma, if you will, by, you know, really setting out to do something to help people versus just trying to make money,” Mycoskie said.
He has since launched a social entrepreneurship fund, investing in purpose-driven, for-profit companies.