TOMS Shoes founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie spoke at the Arlington Theater on Saturday to discuss his company’s brand of socially responsible entrepreneurship and encourage similar humanitarian efforts.
Hosted by UCSB Arts & Lectures as their inaugural event of the year, the afternoon began with an informal meet-and-greet with students during which Mycoskie explained his company’s roots and unique philosophy of donating a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for each pair sold. The philanthropist said he launched the company out of his Venice Beach apartment with just three unpaid interns and a business model of selling shoes for a price that would fund the production of an additional pair for a child in need.
Mycoskie said his inspiration came from a visit to Argentina in 2006 when he witnessed many children suffering from various illnesses and injuries due to a lack of foot protection.
“I developed a strong emotional connection [to the children] that was hard to break,” Mycoskie said.
During the lecture, Mycoskie responded to critiques of his business’s practicality and said individual efforts are integral to spur global changes.
“Small actions can make big differences,” Mycoskie said. “‘One-for-One’ — what it really is, [is] connecting one person who is buying something here, or in Europe or Asia or wherever, to one person who needs something somewhere else in the world.”
The “for-profit charity” has no formal advertising agenda and does not disclose its financial information, according to Mycoskie.
Global and international studies graduate student Nicolas Pascal, co-founder of the UC Haiti Initiative, said he feels the public is responsible for watching over corporations like TOMS to ensure that they maintain their humanitarian goals.
“They are already are a model and they are already corporate, as I see it. TOMS is changing what it is to be corporate but, as consumers, we must remain critically vigilant of how they operate, as is the case with any organization,” Pascal said in an e-mail. “So, of course, it raises eyebrows that they keep so much of their financial information to themselves. But, TOMS is a business and I don’t get the impression that they are secretly trying to run some dark agenda.”
Mycoskie said the business remains inspired by each ‘shoe-drop,’ during which staff members have the opportunity to interact with underprivileged children and witness the tangible benefits of the company’s work.
“Seeing them having these one-on-one experiences with these kids gives them so much joy [and] inspires me to continue doing it,” Mycoskie said. “Also, just seeing the work of the progress in the communities that we’re working in, with our [non-governmental organization] partners, always inspires me.”
The UCSB TOMS Club will begin meeting in the upcoming months to complete its “1,000 Shoe Goal” and sell 1,000 TOMS shoes before December in collaboration with local retail stores Santa Barbara Outfitters and Savvy on State Street.