It’s tempting to call him Tom. But I won’t. Blake Mycoskie, TOMS ‘Chief Shoe Giver’, is here at Selfridges to launch TOMS’ new range of eyewear.
The man behind over 2 million pairs of shoes being given to children in need, has now turned his attention to eyes.
Dressed in the typical LA uniform of denim shirt and jeans, Blake has the long hair, golden tan and beads of a do-gooder, but without the annoying dreamer qualities. His Texan drawl is thoughtful, straight-talking and down-to-earth, with the ample levels of American optimism that we sometimes wish us Brits would have.
If you don’t know the TOMS story, it started when Blake was traveling in Argentina in 2006. Blake witnessed the problems of children growing up without shoes. He took the simple, fabric ‘alpargata’ shoe he saw all over Argentina back to the US and every one he sold meant he could gift a child with a new pair of shoes. TOMS stands for ‘Tomorrow’s Shoes’ and isn’t named after anybody.
“A lot of people call me Tom, I just answer.” says Blake almost embarrassed by it.
TOMS is changing from a shoe company to a ‘one-for-one’ company with the launch of the eyewear. For each pair of the new range of six stylish sunglasses sold, somebody, somewhere will be offered medical treatment, eye surgery or prescription glasses.
“This is the first place outside the states we’ve launched. The UK is our second biggest market and we’ve seen the success of the shoes really taking off here. We first launched the eyewear in the US last June and we really wanted to get through the summer there and work out the kinks before we tried it anywhere else.” he says.
Each of the new glasses feature a distinctive stripe detail on the arms. “I worked with one of my best friends thinking through this striping concept. What the stripes signify is the idea that the front part of the glasses protects your eyes from the sun, you’re purchasing them, and the bright stripe on the back represents the person you’ve given sight to. The white stripe in the middle is TOMS, which brings the two people together. We wanted people to talk about the one-for-one concept and do it in the design. We wanted them to standout on their own in terms the quality and craftsmanship of the glasses but the same time share the story of what we are doing.”
These aren’t the charity option and could easily stand up against any of the current designer sunglasses in terms of design and quality. Unlike some philanthropic endeavors, which give a percentage to charity and doesn’t really mean much to the consumer, TOMS one-for-one clearly means your purchase has an impact. But how do they get the pricing right to work this way?
“Obviously the cost of surgery is a lot more than prescription glasses. We work with an organisation called Seva and they give us their budget for, say, Nepal Eye Hospital and we align our pricing metrics based on what their needs are, based on the people that come into the clinic. We’ve done a pretty good job since June being exactly on. We allow for more surgeries than actually end up happening.”
What’s next for TOMS?
“Nothing is in the pipeline now. The way that the glasses and eyewear came about was me just learning about how these cataract surgeries are being done in rural areas. I think we’re really going to focus on this for the next 24 months and then think what else could we do using the one-for-one model. It’s really important we get this right before moving onto anything else.”
What would you say to cynics who are bored of the whole ethical/environmental thing?
“I think it might be less of a purchase motivator than it was maybe a few years ago. But at the same time, there is a certain group of youth, that, because they’ve experienced this, they almost demand it in all products. So if anything, it may be getting stronger as this youth gets into more purchasing power and adulthood. We have really stepped up our game on looking at products. Now we have really great looking boots at a really great price. We’ve evolved the product line, people will like the ‘bonus’ of what we do from a philanthropic standpoint but they want a good product. These glasses are Made in Italy. We want to compete based on price, quality and design and have the giving as the bonus. That little bonus will stick with you for a long time."
How do you find out what people want?
"There are people in my company who are really looking at the colours and trends, this and that. We try to not to follow that stuff too closely otherwise our shoes start looking like everybody else’s. We do our own thing and hope it works. Some it will and some it won’t."
How do you cope with having such a big company now?
"I’m pretty lucky, I can delegate, the company has kind of grown up with what I call MBA - Management By Absence. They have to self manage, and they’ve done really good. I’m going to give a lot of creative direction but I’m not going to give a lot of day to day direction."
See the new glasses here