TOMS is the brand most well-known for its canvas slip-ons with their distinguishable blue-and-white tag on the back of the shoe and the TOMS logotype etched on it. The company was founded by American Blake Mycoskie in 2006 when he returned from Argentina, where he had travelled to catch a break in between two of his entrepreneurial projects. It was during this trip that a chance meeting occurred between him and the representatives of a humanitarian organization, who were en route to Argentinian villages in order to deliver humanitarian aid, so he offered to join them. During their trip, he had a first-hand look at extreme poverty, and was most troubled by the knowledge that some of the families in the villages could not afford to send their children to school each day since they didn’t have enough shoes for each child, so the children were forced to take turns going to school since they had to share the same pair of shoes.
Upon his return to California, where he was living at the time, he founded the company TOMS and embarked on online sale of the shoes which he had ordered from a local craftsman while still in Argentina, and taken back to America with him. The campaign was launched under the slogan „One for one”, promising each buyer that for each pair of shoes purchased, one child in Argentina would receive a free pair of shoes.
From the very beginning, the sale of shoes exceeded all of Blake’s expectations and TOMS shoes became a true phenomenon. This didn’t go unnoticed by the legendary editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, and Blake landed the cover of this cult American fashion magazine. Long story short, TOMS has given away over 60 million pairs of shoes worldwide, to date.
And this is where our story truly begins. In 2011, TOMS began selling sunglasses under their brand name, promising that for every pair purchased someone somewhere in the world would receive eyeglasses free of charge, or free vision correction surgery. Three years later, TOMS coffee was also marketed, with each buyer ensuring 140 liters of drinking water, which is the equivalent of one-week’s worth of drinking water for an inhabitant of our planet without access to it. In 2015, TOMS launched the sale of its backpack collection, whose purchases would go towards financing the empowerment of mothers and procurement of the basic set necessary for safe labor and delivery in parts of the world where it was needed.
Shoes, sunglasses, coffee, backpacks?! What do these things have to do with each other? What’s next? Why this diffusion of energy and resources? Didn’t they teach us that when you’re good in a particular category, you should work on building up precisely the elements which enabled you to gain this competitive advantage, thereby increasing your profitability and market share? The golden rule of business is: “Work on developing what you’re good at.”
This is precisely what TOMS is doing. The difference is that the above products aren’t the essence of the brand. All of these products, as well as future products which have yet to appear under the TOMS brand are linked by the “one-for-one” promise. This promise is what initially draws those who want to hear more about this and those who believe in the truthfulness of this promise, to become part of the story. Only then is the decision to buy those shoes, sunglasses, coffee, or backpack made. Which precise TOMS product someone is going to buy depends on the cause he or she wishes to support.
All those people who choose to support a specific socially responsible project by buying a product, become not only the owners of this product, but also its ambassadors, whose example and story spreads the word further. And they do this by themselves, quickly and simply, using their “phones”. That’s why TOMS has become a social movement, and not just another company. As such, it is proof that the brand is a story, with each of us acting as a media channel.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Blake Mycoskie at a marketing conference in Montreal. As is customary, we exchanged business cards. Underneath his name on his business card, it read “Chief Shoe Giver”. I turned the card over, probably expecting to see his actual position in the company written on the backside. Obviously, I wasn’t the first to do this, because on seeing what I’d just done, Blake merely laughed and said that he really was nothing more than the Chief Shoe Giver in his company, but that this was the key role in the management team, since his main responsibility was precisely seeing to it that the “one-for-one” promise was actually followed through with, and not merely a marketing slogan.
And he really does travel the world and visit the places where his “one-for-one” promise comes true. All these activities are duly registered and are visible to all those following him and TOMS via social networks.
True, we have examples of these new information technologies only formally connecting us, while in fact bringing us further apart and even alienating us from each other. However, we also have examples of how they bring us closer together and enable us, while shopping, to not only spread awareness of socially responsible behavior, but also to give our own contribution in making the world a better place to live in. We decide whether we want to do it, how we do it, and we do it by ourselves, one by one, step by step.