Photo Credits: MELINDA CHEN / AGGIE
Philanthropic company turns focus to gun violence
In a capitalist society, it’s easy to grow cynical about corporate greed and depravity. Some businesses, however, have molded their brands to manipulate capitalism for the greater good. Corporate responsibility is an increasingly important factor for these multimillion dollar conglomerates. In a movement toward corporate benefaction and activism, one simple shoe company has taken the torch to incite real change in the world.
For-profit retail company TOMS began with a simple idea to help those in need and has grown and expanded to benefit the lives of millions of people. The brand was originally founded on the idea of creating a better tomorrow. The name TOMS is based on the word tomorrow. In 2006, founder Blake Mycoskie was on a trip to Argentina and noticed local polo players wearing alpargatas, a type of shoe native to Argentina. Mycoskie also saw many children in impoverished areas of the country who didn’t have any shoes at all. Recognizing a problem in the world, the young entrepreneur set out to fix it.
The original concept was simple: Mycoskie wanted to develop and sell a similar type of alpargata shoe for the North American market, while also donating shoes to impoverished countries. The company follows a “one-for-one” business model, so with every purchase of their shoes, TOMS donates a pair to someone in need. They currently donate to several countries including Argentina, Ethiopia, Mexico, Rwanda and South Africa.
The shoes were massively popular when they were released. Along with the comfortable and unique style, people also respected the business model and enjoyed the fact that they could become benefactors for the company with a simple purchase.
Caitlyn Liu, a second-year English major, was a huge fan of the shoes when they first came out.
“I had a pair in middle school and I loved them,” Liu said. “Their brand was a casual wardrobe staple and I loved how they gave one pair of shoes away for every pair bought.”
Since its founding, the company has expanded its merchandise to clothing, handbags, coffee and eyewear. While still following the “one-for-one” model, each type of apparel has a certain cause to which TOMS donates. For example, in 2014, TOMS Roasting Co. partnered with different organizations to give a week’s supply of clean water to a person in need with every purchase of their coffee products. For their sunglasses, the company donates funds toward medical treatment of eye diseases and the distribution of seeing glasses in impoverished countries.
First-year biological sciences major Lana Alamamreh respects the “one-for-one” business model, both morally and from a commercial perspective.
“From a business point of view, it would probably be very beneficial because it would encourage more people to buy from their products,” Alamamreh said.
Along with making donations for every purchase, Mycoskie and the company also invest in for-profit entrepreneurial businesses that seek to give back to the community.
For example, the company invested in a Boston startup called ArtLifting. This organization sells artwork by homeless and disabled artists in galleries and helps employ the artists as well. Mycoskie also mentors young entrepreneurs and encourages their ideas if he believes they will spark change in the world.
While TOMS has been lauded for its philanthropic efforts and donations, it has also received criticism: some argued that the only way to truly help those in need is to create jobs within their country that allow people to support themselves. Mycoskie listened and changed his business model accordingly.
In an interview with Lewis Howes, Mycoskie explained how he worked to fix this issue. He told Howes that he made a promise in 2013 that “by 2016 [the company] would create 25% of all TOMS giving shoes in the countries [they] give them in.” The company not only accomplished that goal, but ended up increasing it to 50 percent of their business.
While morality and philanthropy has been at the company’s core from its founding, Mycoskie took the idea of being a corporate leader to the next level in 2017 when an event triggered him to look internally into the issues plaguing America.
Last year on Nov. 7, a horrific mass shooting took place in Thousand Oaks, Calif. There were 12 victims and the entire nation felt the effect of their loss.
This was not an isolated incident, either. There were over 300 mass shootings in America in 2018 alone. Mycoskie told Howes that news about shootings is becoming a natural part of life in this country. However, news of such a horrific event happening so close to his home in Los Angeles was the tipping point for him.
Mycoskie spent three days convincing his team and executive board to speak out on the issue of gun violence and begin campaigning to end it. The company then went public with their new mission. Mycoskie appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and discussed what he and the TOMS brand were going to do to fight for change.
TOMS made a donation of $5 million to organizations that fight to end gun violence, including March for Our Lives, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. This was the largest corporate donation to this cause in the country’s history.
The company then set up a postcard writing system on their website that allows people to send postcards to their local congresspeople, asking for universal background checks on all purchases of firearms. It takes less than 30-seconds to fill out a online postcard. The program debuted on the homepage of the TOMS website just days before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but Mycoskie claimed he was willing to lose sales in order to make a difference.
Over 700,000 postcards have been collected already. On Jan. 8, House Democrats introduced HR #8, which would further regulate background checks for any purchase of firearms, such as those sold at gun shows.
Recently, TOMS arranged “The End Gun Violence Together Tour,” an event to rally around the bill for universal background checks. TOMS and their partners will hold community events and reach out to those affected by gun violence. The tour will travel across the country and end in Washington D.C., where the company will deliver the postcards they have collected directly to Congress. They will also host a rally in Washington on Feb. 5.
Second-year English and communication major Matthew Pimley thinks that the brand has a model by which all other companies will be influenced.
“I’m proud of TOMS for stepping up and supporting a good cause,” Pimley said. “They are an excellent example to other companies. It is my hope that other companies who follow in these steps will also educate themselves and offer support to those who truly need it.”
Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — firstname.lastname@example.org