Toms Shoes’ Self-Feeding Business Model Sets the Bar for CSR - Gauthereau Group


Toms Shoes was founded by Blake Mycoskie on the basis that compassion and giving could make difference. After a trip to Argentina, during which Mycoksie witnessed abject poverty (and a large number of shoeless children), he set out to build a company that not only sold Argentine alpargata-designed shoes, but one that would donate one shoe for every one sold. The company has since given away more than one million shoes in more than 50 countries, and it has rewritten the book on corporate social responsibility. The Toms Shoes model has been described as “a self-feeding loop,” or one that enables an organization to use its proceeds to make charitable gifts. “If I would’ve taken half a million dollars and just bought shoes to give to the kids, I would’ve been able to give the shoes once. It never would’ve been as far-reaching and sustainable as Toms Shoes is now,” Mycoskie explained to Success Magazine in 2009. The model has also enabled the company to generate enough of a following that it can organize community events, including “volunteer-led campus clubs, and the One Day without Shoes event…” according to

In order to educate consumers about the poverty Mycoskie witnessed on his trip to Argentina (and continues to witness on his trips today), he encourages people to register to join Toms Shoes on “Giving Trips,” during which selected participants get to “spend time with the amazing people that work in impoverished communities daily and gain a deeper perspective on community development,” according to the Toms Shoes website. The company has built a similar model for eyeglasses called Toms Eyeware, which gives away one pair of glasses to a child in need for every one sold.

In addition to its dedication to giving, Toms is also committed to corporate responsibility standards. Toms requires its direct suppliers to certify that the materials incorporated into its products are procured in accordance with all applicable laws in the countries they do business in, including laws regarding slavery and human trafficking, according to its website. Toms is a member of the AAFA (American Apparel and Footwear Association) and is registered with the FLA (Fair Labor Association), and the Textile Exchange to support its efforts to use more sustainable materials.

For the company’s efforts, Toms Shoes was awarded the Secretary of State’s 2009 Award for Corporate Excellence, which is an annual recognition of U.S.-owned businesses that exhibit good corporate citizenship, promote innovation, and advance democratic principles around the world. In February 2010, Fast Companynamed Toms #6 on their list of Top Ten Most Innovative Retail Companies. And in 2011 Mycoskie was selected as the keynote speaker for South by Southwest. His address produced one of my favorite Youtube clips, which includes this amazing quote: “Tom’s didn’t have to focus on advertising, but upon giving and giving in a way that is sustainable and in a way that we can share our story and in a way that our customers can share with their friends. When you incorporate giving into your business, your customers become your marketers.”

An incredible example for the rest of us to follow.