Business

TOMS launches online retail marketplace to give back more than shoes

Above: TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie in Argentina.

Image Credit: TOMS

Nobody should have to go barefoot.

TOMS shoes was founded on that simple idea, and today the popular shoe brand launched an online retail marketplace to give its mission greater scope.

“When we started seven years ago, we basically created the one-for-one model,” said founder Blake Mycoskie in an interview with VentureBeat. “People thought it was stupid and crazy, but since then we have sold 10 million shoes and seen social entrepreneurship growing as a movement. But there is still no centralized place for consumers to shop for products with purpose behind them.”

TOMS one-for-one model means that for every pair of shoes sold, one is donated to children in need in the developing world. The company also launched an eyewear line and provides prescription glasses, medical treatment, and/or sight-saving surgery with each purchase.

The cause-driven approach to retail has inspired scores of other entrepreneurs to put a social mission at the core of their business. Mycoskie published a book titled “Start Something That Matters” in 2011. He said that afterwards, companies and their founders began reaching out to him to say they were inspired by TOMS’ model.

“For so long, we were forced to believe that the only way to make the world a better place was through charity and traditional non profits,” Mycoskie said. “Businesses can play a role in creating more social good, and people want to help. It is exciting for them to make purchasing decisions with more purpose.”

The TOMS team wanted to help these fellow social entrepreneurs reach consumers and sell their products, and decided to set up a platform where all these products, stories, causes, and founders could be featured in one place.

TOMS marketplace currently sells over 200 products from 30 carefully-chosen brands. Not all operate a one-to-one model, but all are deemed socially conscious by TOMS “giving team” and have a clear mission.

Consumers can search the marketplace by specific products they are looking for or by cause or geographical region. Products include accessories, apparel, home goods, tech, and toys. Causes include children, education, health, job creation, nutrition, and water.

“I don’t think social entrepreneurship is a fad,”Mycoskie said. “Year after year, we are seeing businesses incorporate giving in an authentic way, and this is largely driven by technology. It allows us to be more connected as a global community and more aware of issues going on around the world. We are more optimistic than our parents before us, we feel we can solve the world’s problems.”

If a customer is purchasing TOMS shoes, chances are they are interested in products with a similar ethos as well. The marketplace also gives smaller brands greater exposure and a stronger marketing and distribution channel.

It is under the TOMS umbrella, but treated as a separate company. A separate team was allocated/hired to design and build the marketplace and source items for it.

“This is not just a derivative of TOMS, it has its own identity,” Mycoskie said. “It looks different, it feels different, and it is a totally new business model. But since we are a bigger company, we can help smaller brands offer superior customer service and same-day shipping. Plus we are uniquely positioned to authenticate and put our stamp of approval on these items.”

Brands include: 31 Bits, Apolis, Badala, Charity Water, Cleobella, Della, Denik, Falling Whistles, Fortuned Culture, From You With Love, Half United, Harper Belle Jewelry, JADETribe, JOYN, Krochet Kids International, Lemlem, LSTN, Movember, One World Futbol Project, Out of Print,  Rose + Fitzgerald, Same Sky, Stone + Cloth, Sword & Plough, Tegu, The Base Project, The Giving Keys, The Honest Company, and Yellow Leaf Hammocks.


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