‘Putting Shoes on Their Feet’ Founder of TOMS speaks at Stambaugh

Blake Mycoskie spoke to a packed Stambaugh Auditorium about the importance of altruism in modern business practices, as well as in building a personal brand. Photo by Alan Rodges/The Jambar.
Blake Mycoskie spoke to a packed Stambaugh Auditorium about the importance of altruism in modern business practices, as well as in building a personal brand. Photo by Alan Rodges/The Jambar.

Stambaugh Auditorium was nearly packed on Oct. 7 for the Youngstown State University Paul J. and Marguerite K. Thomas Colloquium on Free Enterprise. The featured speaker was Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS and New York Times best-selling author.

Mycoskie talked about his one-for-one business model, and how his business grew to sell over 35 million pairs of shoes since it began in 2006.

“One-for-one is the concept that for every pair of shoes sold, TOMS donates one pair to children in need,” Mycoskie explained.

This means that over 35 million pairs of shoes have been donated by TOMS Shoes.

Mycoskie’s shoe venture began while on vacation in Argentina. One day, he met people in a cafe who were there doing volunteer work. They invited him to come along for their shoe drive. He went with them to pass out shoes they had collected from wealthy families.

“The ladies explained how children in Argentina are required to have shoes for their school uniform, in order to get an education. Some children could not go to school because they did not have shoes,” Mycoskie said. “While putting the shoes on their feet, I was overcome with an amazing sense of joy, excitement and accomplishment. That day, we put shoes on 250-300 kids.”

Mycoskie realized that children’s feet grow fast and wondered if his efforts were all for nothing because the kids would eventually grow out of the shoes. This really bothered him, so he decided to try and solve the problem through business and entrepreneurship, because donations were not enough to solve problems for charities.

Thus, the TOMS company and one-for-one business model were born.

Based on his life’s experiences, Mycoskie concluded the lecture by giving two important business and life lessons to the audience.

“I encourage everyone to give more, in their businesses and in their lives,” Mycoskie said. “Giving feels great. It is also really good for business, which is OK, because more good can be done then. When businesses have more aim other than for profit, customers appreciate that.”

Mycoskie believes altruism can create a customer base more inclined to purchase a business’s product frequently because they remember their charitable actions. It also helps to build a strong and respectable personal brand.

He told the audience a story about how he saw a woman wearing his shoes in an airport, and upon approaching her about her shoes, she went on and on about the one-for-one aspect of TOMS, rather than the shoes themselves. This ensured Mycoskie that his business plan was working, because he was generating more than just customers — he was generating supporters.

Mycoskie also emphasized the importance of incorporating service and volunteering into businesses.

“When you incorporate a purpose into your business, it can help to attract and retain the most amazing employees in the world, because they are also willing to sacrifice and commit outside of the job,” Mycoskie said.

Mycoskie and TOMS did not stop just with shoes. To date, Mycoskie said TOMS Eyewear has helped restore sight to more than 200,000 people.

For every pair of sunglasses purchased, TOMS Eyewear will give medical treatments to adults and children around the world.

“When people ask me what my greatest joy in life is, I say it is visiting our sight clinics. You know how people say the circus is the greatest show on earth? I think that seeing people’s eyesight restored is the greatest show on earth,” he said.

The one for one model has also branched out into the TOMS Roasting Co. For every bag of coffee sold, TOMS Roasting Co. gives one week of clean water to families in need.

“I went to one of the countries where we give out our shoes. I met a coffee farmer in Rwanda and saw that the quality of the coffee depended on the quality of the water. I knew that families did not have access to this water, so, I decided to do something about it,” Mycoskie said.

He decided to help out the economy by directly trading with the coffee farmers to help stimulate their businesses, but to also provide water for the needy.

Men and women of all ages and professions attended the lecture, including YSU President Jim Tressel and his wife Ellen.

Amanda Irwin, a sophomore marketing major, was required to attend the lecture for one of her business classes and was happy she went.

“The lecture really impacted me. It motivated me to do something with charity in my future job, and it also made me emotional to hear about the children,” Irwin said. “I think that YSU chose to have Blake speak because he can really hit home with students and impact their lives.”

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