The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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TOMS shoes: footwear for philanthropy

TOMS shoes: footwear for philanthropy
CASEY LEE/The Daily Campus

(CASEY LEE/The Daily Campus)

A young crowd of Dallas fashion enthusiasts gathered in the shoe department of the NorthPark location of Neiman Marcus to watch a lighthearted match of ping-pong on Nov. 12.

Stacks of shoeboxes and rows of heels are common on the second level of the luxury department store, but a battered recreational table affixed between Manolo Blahniks and Christian Louboutins is quite abnormal.

A handful of public relations representatives bustled around the crowds queuing up the next opponent of Blake Mycoskie, chief shoe giver of TOMS shoes.

He visited Dallas last week for a special event to promote the new collection in his philanthropic footwear line.

The former SMU student owns TOMS shoes, a business that provides shoes for a cause. The company is based on the “One-for-One” concept; for every pair of shoes purchased, one pair is given to a child in need.

Since establishing his business in 2006, over 150,000 pairs of shoes have been donated, a number that is continuously rising.

“It’s really need-based on two things: when children need shoes for school or to prevent foot diseases. We try to give to places where it’s going to have the biggest impact,” he said.

Because Mycoskie delivers the shoes himself to countries like Ethiopia and Argentina, he has gained experiences and witnessed poverty and anguish unfathomable to many Americans.

“I met a woman that had three kids and she was so excited that her kids were getting shoes. Through the translators, she explained to me that they only had one pair of shoes for the three kids. So the kids were going to school every third day because the kids had to have shoes to go to school,” he said.

“We were literally giving her family and her kids the opportunity to go to school by giving these shoes. They were so excited because they could all go to school together everyday instead of one at a time. That really hit me hard. I started crying, it was very emotional.”

The shoes Mycoskie designs are unique and formerly unfamiliar to the American public because they are based on the alpargata of Argentinean tradition.

“It’s an Argentinean farmer’s shoe originally,” he said. “We redesigned the sole and the insole and different parts of it.”

This recreation of a time-honored fixture in South American agriculture has evolved into a phenomenon not only because of the impact TOMS has caused in third world countries, but also in the fashion industry.

Mycoskie and his team successfully collaborated with brands such as Ralph Lauren Rugby, Element skateboarding, and now Neiman Marcus.

When asked what is next for TOMS, Mycoskie said nothing has been made official yet.

“We really have to think through who we are going to choose or who we are going to work with next because the Ralph thing was so successful but there is a lot of designers that are interested. So we’ll see,” he said. “We want to focus on this new launch here [at Neiman Marcus].”

Most insanely popular clothing items fade in and out with the trends, but Mycoskie believes that TOMS is here to stay.

“Hopefully as we continue to do our giving projects, like in Ethiopia, we have great results that we can show people and they are encouraged. People are very excited about progress and results. So if we show that we are preventing a disease by their purchases, then they are going to want to help us prevent more diseases.”

Not only did Mycoskie establish an international charity shoe company, he also began a service that is close to many students’ hearts: Mustang Laundry.

He launched the business while he was a student at SMU and ended up selling it to the university following his withdrawal from the school. But he said that developing the service was no easy task.

“With Mustang Laundry, the biggest obstacle I faced was the fact that literally everyone just made fun of me. All my buddies are going to school, out, drinking beer, playing golf, having a fun time and I’m picking up their dirty clothes,” he said.

“Doing laundry is not a cool thing. If I started a tech company, it would have been cool. Laundry business? Not so sexy. TOMS is a little bit sexier. Not caring what people think was the hardest thing.”

The challenges Mycoskie faced with Mustang Laundry were drastically different than his experience with TOMS. He gained knowledge that could never have been taught in a classroom or from a textbook, and ended up finding his niche.

“I had no experience in shoes or fashion when I started. So learning the shoe business and learning about production and all that was a challenge, but it was one that I really enjoyed. I really enjoyed the design process and I found that deep down design is one of my big passions,” he said.

As yet another brave opponent steps up to duel Mycoskie at another round of ping-pong, he explained to the onlookers the connection between the game and TOMS.

“The only time I ever play ping-pong is in Ethiopia,” he said. “The kids in Ethiopia love to play ping-pong. They don’t have anything, and they are very poor but they have these old ping-pong tables that have been given or donated. They play and they are amazing. So whenever I go to Ethiopia I play ping-pong.”

From his upstart laundry service at SMU to a global philanthropy effort driven by shoes, Mycoskie has accomplished many feats so far in his young life.

However, his best advice for being successful falls along the lines of living life one day at a time.

“I think that sometimes if you try to think too far ahead,” he said, “then you get stuck in trying to achieve a vision instead of going the path of least resistance.”

TOMS shoes are available for purchase at several local retailers in Dallas. They can also be purchased through the company’s Web site.

To view hundreds of styles and learn more about the cause, visit tomsshoes.com.

(CASEY LEE/The Daily Campus)

(CASEY LEE/The Daily Campus)

(CASEY LEE/The Daily Campus)

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