With its sell-one donate-one strategy, Toms is busy putting shoes on the feet of kids across the developing world.
If you haven’t done so already, chances are you’re going to read, see and hear a lot about Toms in the coming months. Already a success story in its domestic US market, the footwear brand has the perfect sales pitch – an on-trend shoe that consumers feel great about wearing and even better about buying. Here’s the rub – for every pair of Toms print-led espadrilles sold, the brand donates another pair to a child living in poverty.
It is a fiendishly simple proposition, which since its inception two years ago has put 63,000 pairs of shoes on the feet of kids in need. “There are so many charities but few come directly out of the footwear industry, and it’s wonderful to see a charity driven by a young team that is so focused,” says John Egan, outgoing chief operating officer at Shoe Studio Group, which has partnered with Toms for its UK launch.
Toms – short for Tomorrow’s Shoes – is an infectious proposition, so much so that after signing a partnership deal with the brand, Egan and his wife travelled to an orphanage two hours north of Durban in South Africa, rolled up their sleeves and got involved. “The philosophy is all about giving – we’re now in a culture of giving. Consumers want transparency when it comes to charity and people want to give in a fun way.”
Toms was conceived by serial entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, a 31-year-old Texan whose laid-back manner belies a confident business brain. “While travelling in Argentina I became a volunteer in a programme in Los Piletones where I saw lots of kids without shoes. These kids were walking two miles a day and their feet were getting ripped up,” he says.
Mycoskie set about developing a sustainable business plan whereby Toms could create enough margin to make extra shoes while enabling retailers to profit too. The initial plan to create 250 shoes – enough for the children in Los Piletones – was soon outstripped by retail demand, and today the brand also supplies shoes to children in Africa as well as South America.
“I knew which stores to target on the men’s side and my girlfriends came up with a list of LA women’s boutiques,” Mycoskie explains. “The first store I went into was American Rag in LA. With its mix of vintage and new clothes I knew it was right. It took 125 styles – half my stock – in one order.”
Last week, Selfridges launched the range, with 10 windows dedicated to the brand and its message, and on March 21 Toms will extend its reach through Shoe Studio stores and concessions. Styles are also broadening beyond the core rubber-soled espadrille, with a bandage-leg women’s boot being launched for autumn and a premium range mooted for spring 09.
The next step for Mycoskie is finding retail partners in Spain and France. “We’re already selling in Japan and are about to launch in Turkey,” he says. “It’s all part of my plan to take our total of shoes donated to 200,000 by the end of this year.”
Toms 01865 881 986 www.tomsshoes.com
63,000: Number of pairs of shoes that Toms has donated to children in Africa and South America
24: Number of patterns available on the basic espadrille
£25: Price of women’s styles
£35: Price of men’s styles