TOMS founder closes out SXSW Interactive festival


Throughout the years, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie’s core mission for his company has remained the same—to change the world one person at a time.

Mycoskie closed out the programming of SXSW Interactive March 11 with a bang, publically introducing the launch of his latest business venture called the TOMS Roasting Company. Following Mycoskie’s “One for One” business model, residents in other countries around the world will receive a pair of shoes, treatment for their eyesight or clean water whenever a customer purchases TOMS footwear, glasses or coffee beans.

In addition, Mycoskie announced the first-ever TOMS Cafe, which opened in Austin March 12. Along with the coffee products, a new online TOMS Roasting Club will ship beans out to customers. Mycoskie said he will focus on opening more locations around the country after he relaxes from the Austin cafe's opening and “has a beer.”

“The first year I came to SXSW, I was living in an airstream trailer, fighting off the cops while selling TOMS shoes on the street,” Mycoskie said. “I’ve been back a couple of times in between. I have the same hope and hustle right now (as I did then) because I’m getting into a totally new business.”

Since the company’s beginnings in 2006, many people who have seen the name “TOMS” may wonder where it derived, especially since the products are not named after their founder. The idea is if the company sells a pair of shoes today, they will give another away tomorrow, Mycoskie said. The word “tomorrow” did not fit well onto the shoes, so he decided to shorten it to “TOMS.”

An unexpected month-long trip to Argentina in 2006 fueled Mycoskie’s entire model for TOMS. Mycoskie volunteered at a shoe drive and described the look on the children’s faces as an excitement “like Christmas Day.”

As he was leaving and the children were waving goodbye, Mycoskie said he felt a sense of accomplishment and wanted to help more. Mycoskie’s friend asked him a question he had not considered before — “what is going to happen when they grow out of those shoes?” Mycoskie said he was stumped.

“I never thought about asking how they would sustain giving shoes to these kids,” Mycoskie said. “I went to bed that night, and I had new confusing thoughts about what we experienced. I woke up the next morning determined to think of a way to make sure these kids get their new shoes.”

With past entrepreneurial experience, Mycoskie settled on the for-profit “One for One” business model and flew back to Los Angeles ready to change the world. Since then, 15 million pairs of shoes have been distributed to people in need and more than 300 thousand people have their sight back as a result of TOMS.

As the business continues to grow, one woman wearing red TOMS in New York several years ago is part of the reason the company has reached its peak today, Mycoskie said. Mycoskie, who faced skepticism from East Coast buyers at the time, said he approached this stranger in the airport because it was the first time he saw anyone in New York wearing his products.

The woman expressed her love of TOMS to Mycoskie, completely unaware he was the founder until he introduced himself. He boarded an airplane completely inspired, but unfortunately, never saw her again. Mycoskie encouraged the SXSW crowd to locate the woman, saying he would give her red TOMS “forever.”

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