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.
Toms markets shoes using an espadrille design and a one for one business model — where with one purchase of a pair of shoes, the company also gives one pair to a child without shoes. With eyewear purchases, part of the profit is used to save or restore eyesight for those in developing countries. The company launched TOMS Roasting Co. in 2014, and with each purchase of TOMS Roasting Co. coffee, the company works with other organizations, referred to as "giving partners", to provide 140 liters of safe water, equal to a one week supply, to a person in need. In 2015, TOMS Bag Collection was launched to help contribute to advancements in maternal health. Purchases of TOMS Bags help provide training for skilled birth attendants and distribute birth kits containing items that help women practice safe childbirth.
Employees of TOMS travel to different countries on "Giving Trips" to deliver shoes to children in person. In 2006, Toms distributed 10,000 pairs of shoes in Argentina. In November 2007, the company distributed 50,000 pairs of shoes to children in South Africa. As of April 2009, Toms had distributed 140,000 pairs of shoes to children in Argentina, Ethiopia, South Africa as well as children in the United States. As of 2012, Toms has given away over one million pairs of shoes in 40 countries.
The Tom's 'One for One' model has inspired many different companies to adopt similar concepts. Warby Parker, launched in 2010, donates a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair of glasses it sells. The social business Ruby Cup uses a 'Buy One Give One' model for their menstrual cup venture, benefiting women in Kenya. A Bristol chiropractic center influenced by Mycoskie's Start Something That Matters book started donating £1 to Cherish Uganda for every appointment attended.
Toms' business model is known as the "one for all concept" model, which is referring to the company's promise to deliver a pair of free shoes to a child in need for every sale of their retail product. The countries involved have included Argentina, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Rwanda, South Africa and the United States. The business has grown beyond producing shoes and has included eyewear and apparel in Toms product lines. The company uses word-of-mouth advocacy for much of its sales, centering its business focus on corporate social responsibility. Part of this model originally involved a non-profit arm called "Friends of Toms" that recruited volunteers to help in the shoe distributions in foreign countries. Toms trademarked the phrase "One for One" to describe its own business model. Toms has received criticism from the international development community  who have stated that Toms' model is designed to make consumers feel good rather than addressing the underlying causes of poverty. Criticisms have also included whether or not the shoe donation is as effective as a monetary donation to other charities. Toms responded to this criticism by moving 40% of its supply chain for shoe donation to countries they actively give in. Toms presently manufactures shoes in Kenya, India, Ethiopia and Haiti.