The major mission of Toms is that a business, rather than a charity, would help their impact last longer. In his speech at the Second Annual Clinton Global Initiative Mycoskie states that his initial motivation was a disease called podoconiosis—a debilitating and disfiguring disease which causes one's feet to swell along with many other health implications. Also known as "Mossy Foot", podoconiosis is a form of elephantiasis that affects the lymphatic system of the lower legs. The disease is a soil-transmitted disease caused by walking in silica-rich soil. Toms currently works with factories nearby where they perform some of their shoe drops.
Mycoskie sold his online driver education company for $500,000 to finance Toms shoes. The company name is derived from the word "tomorrow", and evolved from the original concept, "Shoes for Tomorrow Project". Mycoskie initially commissioned Argentine shoe manufacturers to make 250 pairs of shoes. Sales officially began in May 2006. After an article ran in the Los Angeles Times, the company received order requests for nine times the available stock online, and 10,000 pairs were sold in the first year. The first batch of 10,000 free shoes were distributed in October 2006 to Argentine children.
In 2009 Toms partnered with the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project to create limited edition shoes, and used profits to benefit education and medical support in remote areas of Africa suffering from AIDS outbreaks. Toms has also produced shoes with a handlebar mustache symbol in place of the traditional Toms symbol in support of the Movember Foundation. Toms is a supporter of the charity charity: water, with which it has partnered with for several years, including its WaterForward project, which aims to bring clean water to underdeveloped countries. An additional partner charity is FEED, a charity where a consumer will purchase a pair of shoes and the company will donate twelve meals to impoverished schools in addition to a pair of shoes for impoverished children.
Students attending colleges across the United States have created TOMS campus clubs. As of March 20, 2014, 281 campus clubs existed in the United States with another dozen located in Canada. By comparison, another nonprofit organization known as Lions Club International was established in 1917 and is known for working to ending the cause of blindness, reports 400 Lions’ campus clubs in 42 countries.
Blake Mycoskie visited Argentina in 2002 while competing in the second season of The Amazing Race with his sister. He returned on vacation in January 2006, and noticed that the local polo players were wearing alpargatas, a simple canvas slip-on shoe that he began to wear himself and which are the model for the original line of Toms Shoes. They are made from canvas or cotton fabric with rope soles, but Toms makes theirs with rubber soles. Mycoskie said that when he was doing volunteer work in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, he noticed that many of the children were running through the streets with no shoes on. He decided to develop a type of alpargata for the North American market, with the goal to provide a new pair of shoes free of charge to youth of Argentina and other developing nations for every pair sold. According to Mycoskie, Bill Gates encouraged him by saying that the lack of shoes was a major contributor to diseases in children.