Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Shoes for Tomorrow (TOMS), talks about traveling around the world, shoe drops, and expanding the business.
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Arlington-native Blake Mycoskie started Shoes For Tomorrow, also known as TOMS, in 2006 with a simple concept in mind: For every pair purchased, he would give away a pair to a child in need. More than 150,000 pairs of shoes have been given, and now 33-year-old Mycoskie ramps things up with an exclusive line for Neiman Marcus.
How many times has someone addressed you as Tom?
Every day. It’s fine. I end up telling them the TOMS story and that I’m the chief shoe giver, I’m Blake. But it’s always a positive experience.
The shoe is inspired by the Argentinean alpargata. How come you didn’t name the company MANS for manana?
Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure, maybe I should have.
You’re part traveling gypsy, part businessman, part philanthropist. It’s a weird combination, but it works.
That’s very accurate. If you’d added surfer, it would have been perfect.
You’re on a plane how often?
Almost every day. I just landed in Vegas so I can speak at a conference tomorrow and then I go to Dallas for the night.
How do you have a life outside of TOMS?
I have life balance a couple times a year. I’ll work for five months nonstop, then I’ll take a month and surf in Costa Rica with some friends, and then I’m off on the road working again. It’s like social life by appointment, and it’s actually better this way. Since every minute is scheduled, I don’t miss much. If you wanna have lunch, let’s put it in the schedule, and I’ll see you in a month. It’s the best. Before, I was moderately busy and had a lot of demands and things would slip, but now that I’m extremely busy and it’s necessary to schedule everything, things don’t fall through. Once it’s on the schedule, it happens.
TOMS is all about giving. What’s the best thing you’ve ever been given?
Oh, man. That is a hard question. My parents have given me cool stuff. My sister and my brother have given me good gifts. But the best thing? No one’s ever asked me that before. You’ve stumped me.
How many shoe drops have you done since 2006?
Lots. I’ve been on eleven so far. We do them five days a week now. Today we’re dropping in Haiti and Ethiopia. It’s happening almost every day, so it’s hard to say exactly how many drops have been done.
You’ve done a shoe drop in New Orleans. Will there be more in the United States?
I think we will. It’s something that we have thought about, but we’ve not done it yet. We’ve looked at the Appalachia area. If we find an area in dire need, we’ll do it.
What is up with that AT&T commercial? What a tearjerker!
I’m giving complete credit to Bennett Miller. He’s a super talented director and was nominated for an Oscar for Capote. AT&T contacted me, and I told them that I wanted it to be authentic and to be documentary-style. There was no script. It was narrated by me, and that voiceover was from a one-on-one discussion I had with Bennett.
TOMS has expanded the collection by adding a lace-up, a wrap boot, and now an all-weather lace-up boot. Where do you see the company in five years? Will you expand to apparel?
I don’t think we’ll ever have clothes. We’ve got the classic, the lace-up, and we have the bota, which was just launched today. Next summer we’re adding an espadrille wedge for women who don’t want to wear flats. Once we have those five silhouettes, we’ll stay within those designs. I don’t want to lose our identity.
Tell us about this partnership with Neiman Marcus.
Jacqueline Sewell is a friend of mine in Dallas, and a couple of years ago her parents had a dinner party for me. I ended up sitting next to [Neiman Marcus CEO] Burt Tansky at dinner, and he really liked the TOMS idea but knew the current shoe wasn’t for the Neiman’s customer. We needed to use special fabrics and make some of them limited edition. It’s been almost two years in the making, and we’re finally launching for holiday tomorrow.
You blog, you tweet, TOMS regularly sends out company update e-mails that look as if you’re contacting each recipient personally. You make a concerted effort to connect with people. Do you think it’s contributed to the success of TOMS?
For sure. I use two words to describe TOMS: transparent and authentic. We want people to see behind the curtain, and we want them to participate. It’s an inclusive thing where we want them to YouTube themselves wearing their TOMS on the Eiffel Tower, and we want them to tell everyone what their favorite pair is. We reach out to people, we welcome people.
We’re supposed to play Ping-Pong for the launch at Neiman Marcus. For every game you win, your opponent has to buy a pair of TOMS. For every game you lose, your opponent receives a free pair of TOMS.
I want to sell a lot of shoes. Hopefully, people won’t see that as a challenge, but more of a fun extra when they come.
Do you really live on a boat in Los Angeles?
I do. I live on sailboat. It’s pretty great, and I go out on it all the time.