Thirty-four-year-old Blake Mycoskie is the founder and self-proclaimed "Chief Shoe Giver" of TOMS Shoes. He is on a mission to put shoes on the feet of every child in need, using a very innovative one-to-one business model. It is a very simple premise, but one with a lot of promise: For every shoe they sell, they give a new pair of shoes to a child in need.
"I would have never imagined that I'd become a shoe salesman so that I could give away shoes. I mean that idea is ludicrous," TOMS' founder, Blake Mycoskie, told ABC News.
TOMS, short for a better TOMorrow, has given away over one million pairs of shoes in the US and 24 other countries to help children who are the most at risk for foot-borne illnesses.
"A lot of people ask, 'How long did it take to come up with that idea?' or, 'Gosh, that was really marketing genius,'" said Mycoskie. "The truth is…for me that was the easiest way to keep track of it. I wanted to help these kids get shoes and I didn't want to make it hard to keep track of, so I said we'd sell a pair, so then we give a pair."
Their goal: to protect children from various foot-borne diseases and infections. Each year Mycoskie and his employees do about a dozen "shoe drops," where the company pairs shoes with children.
"When you're putting that shoe on a child's foot, it's a very intimate, personal experience you're sharing with that child…seeing the joy on these kids' faces…it really touched me. That child will never care about the number of shoes we've given away or the success that TOMs has had…all they care about is they're getting a brand new pair of shoes in a loving way and that is such an awesome experience," said Mycoskie.
It's a movement that has spread from the company to its customers. This past Tuesday, TOMS launched its annual "Day without Shoes" campaign, which encourages people to live in someone else's shoes – or the lack of them – for a day.
Hundreds of thousands of supporters across the country joined them. Celebrities such as Heather Graham and the Jonas Brothers kicked off their shoes and went barefoot, taking the cause to the streets and online by posting their pictures and videos using social media like Twitter and Facebook.
Blake Mycoskie says he thinks this kind of activism can change people's perceptions. "It really is a day of awareness and activism because you're not just creating awareness, you're actually doing something…and when you give people the opportunity to do that…it transforms their experiences… they're part of a movement."
Movement Gathering Steam
Mycoskie says the growing movement is just beginning to take hold, all born from the simple desire to take action, and a determination to make a change. He hopes many other embrace this desire.
"I had an idea and it was a small idea when we started. Anyone can make a difference, so you don't have to have it be some huge, global campaign…you can start small and that's just as important."
Mycoskie says that TOMS Shoes will unveil a new, non-footwear product in June, continuing its one-to-one business model. So far, TOMS has given one million pairs of new shoes to children in need all over the world.