TOMS Shoes, Where It All Began

On a lunch break about 4 years ago I walked through a Nordstroms and saw a pair of funny looking shoes that reminded me of espadrilles and decided to pick it up and assess it’s value. Low and behold, it said on the hangtag “One for one” for every shoe purchased a child in need receives a shoe. I thought to myself, now how cool is THAT! A product that does good!

So I proceeded to email the founder Blake Mycoskie and ask him for advice on how should one start a social enterprise. I had the early inklings of starting something, but just didn’t know quite where to begin. I was entirely floored to receive an email back from him. Here is a copy of his letter back to me.

Now fast forward 4 years later, I’m standing at TOMS Shoes headquarters ready to meet their head of giving supply chain manager, Mayura, whom I met at the SOCAP conference last month. Mayura so graciously invited us to visit the newly built headquarters just south of Venice Beach. They truly retained the cool “startup” feel by making the cubicles out of plywood , ping pong tables and having slides throughout the building for fast access. (hmm, I think we need one for our offices too).

What I found truly inspiring was just hearing her talk about a company that truly believes in the cause and her feeling like what she does actually does matter. She explained to me that each NGO that TOMS works with on ground for their shoe drops are heavily vetted to make sure that they are there to help the people in need. For some reason people have the impression that they just drop shoes off randomly and then take off feeling like they’re the heroes. TOMS has faced some heavy scrutiny on all accounts.

To be honest with you, some people might say, but they’re just shoes. Why aren’t you taking care of the orphans? Why aren’t you addressing the issue of AIDS? Why don’t you give water? etc. etc. Well, here’s one piece of information that might change your mind about “just” shoes. Children in Honduras need to wear shoes in order to go to school. No shoes = no education. I think that goes without saying, that’s worth it no?

As EllieFunDay continues to do our groundwork in India, I’ve learned a ton from TOMS. I had the chance to review Blake’s book “Start Something that Matters” and I’ve applied many of their principles to help us get started. Starting with this first piece of advice from Blake,

“I have started six businesses now and experienced naysayers for each and every one. Being an entrepreneur (or any type of creator) takes courage. You have to be willing to stand up for your own ideas and be willing to see them fail.”

Gosh, FAILURE? so many of us run from just the IDEA of failure. So many of us stop short of even trying because we’re afraid of failing. But here’s my question back, “What if you didn’t try? What if you decided to take the safe route? What if you lost money? What if you lost your job? Can’t we all earn money again somehow? Can’t we all find another job that will somehow support us?”

My two cents in all of this is, I NEED to do this because the POSSIBILITY of it working and making a difference far outweighs the loss. If EllieFunDay doesn’t work, I’ve lost some of my life-savings (so what?) but I’ve gained a world of knowledge, connections but more importantly a wealth of relationships that far outweigh the loss. In this year, I’ve already seen my own faith and skills grow in ways that I’ve never expected. If EllieFunDay DOES work, that means that LIVES are changed, cultural systems are overthrown, dignity is given, hope is achieved and a generation of Dalits will get to see what it means to be empowered. Now isn’t THAT worth the risk?

What’s would you risk that’s worth it for you?

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