How TOMS keeps revolutionizing the one-for-one business model
If you’ve ever had your doubts about the success of one-for-one companies, TOMS proves that giving to others has never looked so good
You probably have heard the name, or even own a pair of classic canvas shoes that come with a classic blue and white bag and matching sticker: TOMS Shoes. What you may not be aware of is how the company keeps revolutionizing the one-for-one model, one product at a time.
As a refresh, Blake Mycoskie started the company in the four walls of his tiny apartment with an intern posting on Craigslist. But what stood out from the very beginning was his business model. After visiting Argentina and seeing many children running around without shoes, he felt compelled to do something. Could he build a company where for every pair of shoes purchased he could donate a pair to children in need? Was it possible to provide consumers shoes with style, and at the same time make an impact for people in need? TOMS and the one-for-one model was born out of Mycoskie’s idea. And to date, that idea has been worth about $400 million in revenue and the current number of donated shoes is at 75 million.
People had their doubts from the start, saying it was just a “feel good” idea that would amount to nothing. Or would create a “free handout” issue with unintended consequences. But TOMS would prove to become one of the champions of social entrepreneurship, turning businesses from sales goals to goals of doing good. Because of the challenges TOMS faced with brand perception, they set out to prove their doubters wrong, and in turn, have seen the one-for-one model work over and over again.
So in case you missed these developments and are looking at a new pair of stylish booties and thinking, ‘these are TOMS?’ the company has launched three new product lines, one per year. And while shoes are still the classic go-to, they saw even more needs to address. In 2011, they committed to tackling the less fortunate who don’t have access to eye care. With the sales from every pair of sunglasses bought, 500,000 people have had help with improving their eyesight. Then in 2014, they launched TOMS coffee, which provides a week’s worth of clean drinking water to a community in need for every bag of coffee purchased. Current sales of coffee revenue have provided 450,000 weeks of safe water to those in developing countries. Their latest venture brought them to handbags and backpacks that support TOMS giving partners in delivering necessary training and materials to aid in safe birthing practices. To date, they have helped more than 175,000 mothers. provide access to safe birthing practices in countries where there are none. They’ve even begun to tackle bullying through one of their backpack lines, where the purchase provides training entire school communities to create bully-free campuses.
After receiving pushback about putting local companies in the places they give, out of business, TOMS responded again with, “Let’s make some changes.” Now, the countries that receive the one to your one, are the sole providers of your one. In other words, your pair of TOMS was manufactured in the countries in which they are donated, providing jobs, economic growth and safe working environments.
TOMS doesn’t stop at shoes, eye care, water, safe births and fighting bullies. Most recently, half of the company was purchased by Bain Capital. Mycoskie, being the Chief Shoe Giver, decided to take half of his part of the deal and pour it back into businesses that are following the one-for-one model by creating the Social Entrepreneurship Fund to help these business do even more good work. The Social Entrepreneurship Fund has supported companies like Cotopaxi, Thrive Market, Kairos, and Artlifting to promote social change.
For a consumer, the one-to-one business model is a no brainer. If you like the products being sold, why not support the campaign for giving to those in need. Think about the companies you support. Ask yourself if their impact is positive or negative. Consider supporting the companies that align with your values and what you believe. And let’s not forget the core of why TOMS exists today. Because someone, somewhere saw a need that wasn’t being met and decided to do something about it. TOMS started a movement: A movement toward kind business practices and kind giving.
Read our roundup of the different types of “do good” businesses and how you can support their efforts.