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.
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.
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.
Author Daniel H. Pink described the company's business model as "expressly built for purpose maximization," whereby Toms is selling both shoes and its ideal. Toms' consumer market are purchasing shoes and also making a purchase that transforms them into benefactors for the company. Another phrase used to try to describe the business model has been "caring capitalism". Part of how Toms has developed this description is by incorporating the giving into its business model before it made a profit, making it as integral to the business model as its revenue generating aspects. Business tycoon and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wrote of the company's business model in his book Screw Business as Usual, "They look for communities that will benefit most from Toms based on their economic, health and education needs while taking into account local business so as not to create a correlating negative effect." He also commented on Toms' expansion into eyewear in order to help the nearly 300 million people who are visually impaired in developing nations.
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