Humble roots

Slipping back on my TOMS after the One Day Without Shoes event this Tuesday, pioneered by the footwear brand made me think how we take a such a basic and everyday item for granted. It is unlikely that you will think of how fortunate you are to own a pair of shoes, you think ‘do I look good in these?’ and ‘did I really need another pair?’ – resulting with a positive conclusion. Yet the main idea behind TOMS is their One for One policy, where for every pair of shoes that is bought another pair is given to a child in an impoverished country.

Whilst volunteering in Argentina, Mycoskie was struck by the effect of the lack of shoes on the children living there. “Their feet were painfully cut up and swollen from having to walk a long way every day, and many weren’t allowed to attend school because of lack of shoes,” says Mycoskie. Instead of turning a blind eye he decided to create his own shoe company. “I’d create a shoe company and for everyone I sold, I’d send one back to this village. And the name TOMS would come from the word ‘tomorrow.’ As in, you buy a pair of shoes today, and we give the kids a pair of shoes tomorrow. It sounds cheesy, but it really was an epiphany.”

Blake Mycoskie started TOMS in 2006, undertaking the first of many ‘shoe drops’ in Argentina with his friends. The idea of the shoe drops is to fit and distribute TOMS shoes to communities of children who are too poor to afford even a pair of shoes. The energy and enthusiasm of these events can be viewed on the TOMS YouTube channel. Since the first shoe drop, TOMS has branched out to other countries in need including Haiti, China, South Africa, Uganda, USA, Cambodia and Armenia.

The original goal in 2006 was to sell two hundred and fifty pairs and then give an equal number to the region of Missiones in Argentina, Mycoskie states “We ended up selling ten thousand, just out of my apartment.” That means when Mycoskie returned to Missiones, ten thousand children were provided with footwear. These shoes have potentially protected them from soil-transmitted diseases, and additionally given them the chance for an education.

From its humble roots, producing the shoes in a small factory in Argentina, TOMS now have factories in Ethiopia, Asia and Brazil which all follow local labour regulations. “When we first started making them, it was me! We started in Argentina, and we still have a little factory in Argentina where we make about 30% of the shoes”. It makes sense that the materials used to make the shoes are eco friendly, consisting of organic canvas and recycled materials such as plastic. The design is based on an Argentinian shoe called Alpargata which Mycoskie redesigned, replacing the rope sole with more durable rubber material to satisfy the US market. There is also a vegan range Mycoskie told Treehugger Radio in 2008. “Once we got going and we hired some people who were professionals in the shoe industry, we realized very quickly that our shoes could not only be very environmentally friendly, but also vegan.” – listen to the podcast on iTunes.

Now I’m one of the last people to want to join a brand of the masses, but I will be walking around displaying the trademark blue and white flag on the back of my shoes this coming Spring/Summer term.