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JOLIET, Ill.—It started as a simple idea: one-for-one. For every pair of shoes purchased, another pair would be donated to a child in need. But that basic idea, quickly and unexpectedly turned into a life changing endeavor for TOMS Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie, who told the story of how TOMS Shoes transformed from a one-man operation into a full-fledged business during a speech March 25 at the University of St. Francis.
During a vacation to Argentina in 2006, Mycoskie said he overheard people discussing plans for a shoe drive. The gently used shoes that would be collected were to be given to children who needed them in order to attend school. Wondering what happened when the children outgrew the shoes; Mycoskie decided a business instead of a charity could ensure that these children had proper footwear throughout their schooling. “By lunch that day with no formal business plan, I decided to do it,” he said. “It was a spontaneous response.” Before returning to Los Angeles, Mycoskie had the first 250 pairs of TOMS Shoes made, all designed in a traditional Argentine style. “I knew nothing about shoes or retail,” he said. “But, I did learn that the fashion world is not a very welcoming industry.”
After numerous calls to boutiques, Mycoskie sold 80 pairs to his first vendor and five days later answered his first call from the media—a fashion writer from the L.A. Times who happened upon them in that store. An article appeared in the newspaper that weekend and orders for 2,200 pairs of shoes came flooding in. “I only had 100 left,” Mycoskie admitted. He found and convinced three interns to work for free out of his apartment and quickly got more shoes into production. Then, Vogue magazine called for an article. “Vogue magazine does a really good job making it look like I knew what I was doing,” Mycoskie said. “I sold 10,000 pairs from that article.”
He then moved the business out of his home and hired a staff that included shoe designers from
Nike and Asics. To-date, Mycoskie has sold and therefore given away more than 400,000 pairs of shoes during “shoe drops.”
“The first question people ask me is if TOMS changed my life,” he said. “The true answer is no. When I had the idea for TOMS it was just an idea, but my life totally changed when I went on the first shop drop.” That drop occurred in Argentina—the same place where Mycoskie had the idea for TOMS. Mycoskie said he was humbled by how appreciative the children and their parents were. “That day I decided that I would dedicate every single day, every single hour to getting these shoes to kids who need them,” he said. “Giving doesn’t just feel good. It turns out that giving is a really good business strategy.”
Before his speech, Mycoskie met with a group of 25 University of St. Francis students who hosted a “Style Your Sole” party. The students decorated pairs of white canvas TOMS with paint, markers and glitter and will give them to deserving children in the Joliet area through Catholic Charities, Guardian Angel and the university’s Health and Wellness Center.
The Duns Scotus honor society and Peer Ministers had been fundraising for the purchase of 90 pairs of TOMS Shoes since the beginning of February. Ninety pairs were elected in celebration of the university’s 90th anniversary.
The students received wide support from not only university faculty, staff and students, but also across the greater Joliet area. Area business owners, community groups and elected officials, including U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, supported the cause. Halvorson even wore her pair of TOMS Shoes on the House floor during the historic health care reform vote. To see fun video of who is wearing TOMS in the greater Joliet area, visit