The founder of TOMS Shoes told Kansas University students Tuesday that embracing a spirit of sustainability and giving would help them to succeed in both business and in life.
Blake Mycoskie is the founder of the company that operates on a “buy one, give one” model, where it gives away a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold.
The entrepreneur had been involved in other businesses before starting this company after meeting volunteers on a trip to Argentina. He came back with three duffel bags stuffed with new shoes, and the company grew from there.
Today, he’s given away more than 400,000 pairs.
In order to balance out costs, the expense of the second pair of shoes is built into the price of the first, and the company also doesn’t spend much on traditional advertising.
The shoes are donated around the world, targeted at areas where children need the shoes to attend school or prevent disease. Wetter areas receive rubber rain boots and drier areas get canvas shoes.
“Giving not only feels good, but it’s actually a really good business practice,” Mycoskie said.
He said his customers often become his best marketers. When he spotted a stranger wearing the shoes in an airport, he pointed them out to her without identifying himself, and she immediately began to enthusiastically tell him about his company.
“She was telling me my story word for word, and she’s more excited about it than my mom would be,” he said.
Mycoskie spoke Tuesday night to a crowd of several hundred people at KU’s Lied Center.
In an interview before his speech, Mycoskie said that colleges and universities have played a key role in his business’ success.
Several schools — including KU — have a campus group devoted to the brand.
“I think a lot of it is young people are becoming more socially aware and active than it used to be,” Mycoskie said.
Cherié Gossett, a junior from Olathe, leads KU’s TOMS group after signing up on the company’s Web site. She said the group has about 25 members, and drew about 350 people to an event last semester. The group will be showing a documentary on the company in February to help spread its message.
“It’s really exciting to just see how someone can live something out and make a difference,” she said.