In 2006 Blake Mycoskie, a Los Angeles entrepreneur and traveler, at that time perhaps best known for finishing third on the Amazing Race II, found during a trip through Argentina that the children typically did not have shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a for-profit California company that would use the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good. Mycoskie vowed to give a pair of new shoes to a child in need for every pair he sold. One for One, he called it.
In the first year, he sold 10,000 pairs of his shoes and returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff to distribute 10,000 more. His product, which has expanded beyond shoes, has become available online and in more than 500 stores internationally, including Nordstrom’s and Whole Foods, and is endorsed by celebrities including Karl Lagerfeld and Scarlett Johansson.
To fully engage its customers, TOMS depends heavily on social media and word-of-mouth and effectively uses images to tell its story: a crowded room with bare feet (human and some hoofs), children playing soccer (with a ball of rags) and bare feet, people walking to get water with no shoes. It has its own YouTube channel, with hundreds of videos. The channel highlights the cause, including the real stories of the children whose lives were changed by receiving the shoes, and encourages contributions of user-generated content based upon TOMS products. TOMS’ Facebook page features user-generated videos of the brand’s good deeds, and tracks and honors the fans that forward the videos to others, and its Twitter page has over 1.2 million followers.
TOMS also sponsors offline events. The TOMS Vagabond tour, which was produced in partnership in 2009 by the Dave Matthews Band, moves from college town to college town to spread the word about TOMS’ good work. And TOMS sponsors an annual barefoot-for-a-day event, shoe “drops,” where customers and volunteers go on the trips to hand deliver the shoes, design-your-own-shoe contests, and other interactive events that engage the target audience.
No doubt TOMS has hooked an audience—and made a difference. By September 2010, more than 1,000,000 pairs of shoes had been donated to children in Argentina, Ethiopia, Haiti, South Africa, and the United States. In 2009 TOMS had hoped to reach a million pairs by 2012, but they got there a little early.