TOMS, the Charity-Business Pioneer, Expands Into Eyewear

TOMS, the company famous for its business model of giving away one pair of shoe for every pair sold, is expanding its charity-business work into a new field: eyewear.

Founder Blake Mycoskie, aka “Chief Shoe Giver,” said the company will apply its one-to-one model to its new line of sunglasses. He made the TOMS Eyewear announcement at the company’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., on Tuesday.

“As I traveled around the world, I started to see more people who were visually impaired or blind living these desolate experiences,” said Mycoskie, according to Fast Company, a progressive business media. “As I started asking question about what they needed, it was so simple. They either needed glasses, cataract surgery, or medical treatment.”

In his shoe giving travels, he connected the dots that students who couldn’t see well had a hard time succeeding in school, and many beggars were blind.

So came the idea for TOMS Eyewear. When consumers buy the hand-painted sunglasses, which start at $135, someone in the developing world will be able to see or see better.

Mycoskie explained that the three hand-painted stripes on the sunglasses tell a story. The first stripe is you the purchaser, the stripe at the other end is the person you give sight to, and the white stripe in the middle is TOMS.

“With TOMS Eyewear, we’re able to give someone the opportunity to wear a pair of shades knowing that there is a much greater purpose,” said Mycoskie in the promotional video.

There are 284 million people in the world who are visually impaired. TOMS will work with the Seva Foundation to initially support giving people sight in Nepal, Tibet and Cambodia.

During the announcement Tuesday, Mycoskie recalled that he started TOMS four years ago to help a small village in Argentina where he saw a charity giving people old shoes. He praised the group’s effort, but thought to himself that it is not sustainable because it depends on donations. That was when he started the for-profit TOMS company.

In the first few years, TOMS actually lost money but they were still giving away shoes, Mycoskie shared at the Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church last year.

“And because we did that and stayed true to our one-for-one model, we’ve been incredibly blessed. We really did give our first fruits,” said the Christian entrepreneur.

To date, the company has given over 1 million pairs of new shoes to poor children.