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Philanthropic shoe company creates national, collegiate trend

Patrick Moreno, Staff Writer

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TOMS Shoes made history this September when it donated its millionth pair of shoes to children in need. One million shoes have been hand-placed on children’s feet by the company after being purchased by an increasingly conscious-consuming public.

The headlining banner on the TOMS website says, “For every pair of TOMS that you buy, the company will give a pair to a child in need. One for one.” It is also the hard-line strategy that Blake Mycoskie, TOMS Shoes founder and CSG, or chief shoe giver, has used to turn a simple idea into an internationally recognized brand.

Sara Contreras, junior communications major at Cal State Long Beach, has witnessed the popularity of the brand at her job as manager at Active, a clothing company based out of Huntington Beach.

Contreras, who donned pink sparkled TOMS, said Active teamed up with TOMS this fiscal year and agreed to set 10,000 units as a sales goal.

“But the fiscal year ends in February, and we’ve already sold over 16,000 pairs,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll make it to 20,000 pairs by then.”

Contreras said people who are already familiar with the brand head straight for the TOMS display, and are eager to give back.

 

Turning an Argentinean peasant shoe into a hip trend

It all started when Mycoskie took a vacation to Argentina in 2006, as he recalls in an interview with Jacob Gordon of the website Treehugger.

“I was just kind of burned out.” Mycoskie said. “[I had] started five companies in the last 12 years, mainly in media and technology. I went down to Argentina looking for some time to relax, experience the culture, take it all in.”

Mycoskie found it hard to relax after he discovered that many poor children, even in developed cities like Buenos Aires, Argentina, either went without shoes or wore pieced together and ill-fitted shoes. Before he even left South America, he went back to writing another, even more successful, business plan.

Out of his desire to help the Argentinean children, Mycoskie developed the business model that would eventually protect more than two million delicate feet.

The model considered the idea that a child’s foot grows rapidly and that one wave of shoes couldn’t provide truly sustainable podiatric health to those children that needed the shoes most.

 

Building a product

Mycoskie’s brain child, originally dubbed “The Shoes for Tomorrow Project,” was renamed several times before TOMS was chosen as an abbreviated form of the word “tomorrow,” The new title preserved the original idea, but fit on the blue and white brand-labels of the simple little shoes.

TOMS was originally a blank canvas shoe modeled after a cheap and durable Argentinean shoe Mycoskie liked for the project. Now, the garb that gives is available in that are as diverse as the children whose feet they protect. Newer models include options like vegan-friendly, glitter-spackled and heeled.

Pippa Bowen, a sophomore fashion merchandising major at CSULB, owns a pair of original TOMS that she bought at a “Design Your TOMS” event at the school’s dorms last year.

“In one of my classes, we learned that the generation following us — that is, kids in primary school and junior high — are becoming more and more aware of what brands they support with their buying power,” Bowen said. “Soon, all companies will need to have a philanthropic angle that runs deeper than the aesthetic appeal of their products to even compete.”

Bowen said TOMS are the shoes of tomorrow because of the deeper satisfaction they provide the consumer.

“I think it’s amazing that people are willing to spend the same amount of money for a less flashy shoe, just because they know that they’re giving back,” Bowen said.

 

How much TOMS is really giving back

TOMS was recognized at IMA World Health’s 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C., last month for their recent partnership with the company, and their cooperative plan to eventually give 800,000 shoes to the poverty-stricken disaster victims from Haiti.

Jessica Shortall, director of giving for TOMS, spoke on the company’s behalf at the conference.

“IMA is 50 years old, and TOMS is four and a half,” Shortall said. “We have everything to learn from companies like IMA and other NGOs [non-governmental organizations].”

Shortall, who wore TOMS wedges at the podium, was sincere and humble as she held her foot up and said, “All we have to give is shoes.”

She explained, “They’re simple, and can be an important part of life-saving strategies when we partner with other NGOs. [For example,] when given with a de-worming agent, or antibiotics as treatment, TOMS acts as preventative medicine to really make an impact in the long run on the health of these children.”

 

Living up to the hype

Not every socially conscious college student buys into all of the TOMS hype, however. To some, it’s only a trend that also happens to be for a good cause.

“When cause-oriented brands trend, some people feel that consumers are being disingenuous,” junior biology major Zien Halwani said. “I frankly don’t care. As long as the cause is being helped, who cares if I’m buying my TOMS to look cool?”

To many people, like Halwani, the act of choosing a shoe is just that — a choice. This was TOMS’ goal.

According to the website, “The ‘One for One’ movement is about people making everyday choices that help improve the lives of children.”

As more businesses begin to capitalize on these newer, more directly compassionate strategies, it will hopefully become easier for common consumers to choose how to distribute every bit of aid they give to each cause.


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