In the 13 years since its conception in a one-bedroom apartment in Venice, Ca., Toms has given away 95 million pairs of shoes to children and adults in underserved communities.
Throughout the decade and change that the brand has been around, its name has become synonymous with corporate social responsibility. The brainchild of entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, Toms has sought to expand its mission well beyond footwear, supporting clean water initiatives and even taking a stand against gun violence.
In a report released last week, the company illuminated the breadth of its commitment to charitable giving. The company’s initiatives are so vast that they are managed by a dedicated Giving Team, headed by chief giving officer, Amy Smith.
The team has developed relationships with over 200 non-governmental and humanitarian organizations in 80 countries across the globe, and earned certified B Corporation status in 2018. The distinction indicates that a company meets “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose,” according to the organization’s assessment policy.
Smith told Sourcing Journal that Toms has been gearing up to move beyond its One For One mission and is augmenting its giving portfolio through impact grants that touch on a number of social issues.
“When we launched in 2006, One For One was a relatively simple yet revolutionary idea that was easy to digest,” Smith explained. “However, consumers are much more engaged these days, and they support companies who align with their values.”
That means pushing the boundaries and breaking with the brand’s tradition of matching purchases with product donations. The learnings that the company has taken from the One For One program have been invaluable, she said, in illuminating the path forward.
One For One
Throughout the course of the One For One program’s run, Toms has garnered a deep and granular understanding of the specific needs of each community that it has served.
Those learnings prompted changes along the way, like the development of different styles of footwear based on regional climates and cultures. Today, the company currently gives away four different shoe silhouettes, including a Mary Jane for girls with school uniform requirements, an athletic shoe made for sports, and even a wet weather shoe made for wearers in tropical environments—in addition to the brand’s classic canvas slip-on.
Toms also found that supporting economic development could become an important by-product of its shoe-gifting mission. About a third of the company’s donated footwear is manufactured by local workers in the same countries in which it is donated. Shoes are distributed in 82 countries worldwide and 38 states, with the top recipients being Kenya, India and Ethiopia.
In 2011, the company expanded One For One with the launch of its eyewear collection, which sought to grant the gift of sight to the legally blind or visually impaired. The company guaranteed that with each pair of glasses sold, one person’s sight would be restored through the gifting of prescription glasses, medical treatments or surgeries.
According to its giving report, Toms has restored sight in 780,000 individuals across 14 countries. And by the end of this year, the company will have helped to establish 37 vision centers in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.
When the company launched TOMS Roasting Co., its line of ethically sourced coffee, in 2014, it found that many of the communities from which it sourced its coffee beans lacked access to safe water for drinking and bathing.
In partnership with local partners like How We Give Water, WaterAid America and Water For People, the company has helped fund initiatives that provided 722,000 weeks of safe water, at the rate of 140 liters per person, per week.
“Our mission at Toms has always been to use business to improve lives. We want to make sure we are creating as much impact as possible in a way that is aligned with the values of our consumers,” Smith said. “So with 13 years of learnings and a changing landscape of issues facing our communities, we decided it was time to evolve.”
The company will continue to donate One For One for special collaborations, she said, but the Giving Team’s new, expanded model will focus primarily on impact grants that allow for more flexibility in supporting charitable partnerships.
For every $3 the brand takes in, it will give $1 back to humanitarian causes. Toms is committed to donating a third of its annual profits through exhaustively researched and coordinated giving efforts, Smith said.
The members of the Giving Team “range from international development experts to public health MBAs,” she explained, and they are tasked with developing an annual impact investment strategy grounded in the needs of the company’s Giving Partners around the world. The Team considers “the causes our community cares most about, and the areas where we feel we can have the most meaningful impact both here in the US and internationally,” she added.
To date, Toms has donated $6.5 million in grants to 14 partners in the U.S. and the U.K., whose missions range from promoting physical safety to mental health services and providing equal access to opportunities.
In 2018, the company launched the End Gun Violence Together (EGVT) campaign, bringing together the expertise of national organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, March For Our Lives, Black and Brown Gun Violence, and more. EGVT has committed to spend a total of $5 million over the next five years on efforts to prevent gun violence, intervene in legislative efforts and help survivors. Since its inception, the campaign has supported the mailing of 721,082 postcards to Congress, calling for universal background checks.
Toms also supports the U.K.-based Helen Bamber Foundation, which services more than 600 survivors of abuse and inhumane conditions from Albania, Ghana, Iran, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Vietnam. The company donated $100,000 to the organization, funding therapeutic care, medical assessment, creative arts, skills, and activities programs, along with referral services for legal, welfare and housing support.
As the company continues to explore new avenues for giving and causes to champion, Smith hopes that Toms loyalists will understand the need to evolve. “We trust that existing and new customers are excited about this new direction and will adapt with us, even if it is slightly more complex,” she said.
The brand intends to enact new messaging surrounding its giving program across all of its consumer-facing channels, she said.
Over the course of the past 13 years, Smith explained, feedback has shown that that providing physical protection from injury and disease and promoting emotional well-being and equal access to opportunities are the areas where the brand can have the most impact—and Toms intends to continue pushing forward with these objectives in mind.
“Our giving strategy will continue to support these three issue areas,” she said. “To us, these areas support a thriving humanity.”