Blake Mycoskie went to Argentina on vacation – intending to learn the tango, hone his Spanish and play some polo.
He brought home something besides a tan and good memories.
After his 2006 trip, Mycoskie found himself dwelling on the sight of poor children he had seen while in the South American country.
He was especially dismayed to see that many of these children did not have shoes.
The result, according to Mycoskie, was a resolve to find a way to help these suffering poor kids while also running a productive business.
Mycoskie started the California-based company TOMS, which began with footwear and has expanded to eyewear, on a business model in which one pair of brand-new shoes or other item would be given to a child in poverty for every one purchased by a customer. TOMS touts its model as a “One for One” method of coupling business with charitable activity.
Mycoskie, now 36, will speak at 8 p.m. Thursday in the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena, as part of the university’s 26th Distinguished Speakers Series. University officials said Monday that tickets for the event are still available.
“Through my conversations with social workers during my trip, I learned about the complications of life without shoes,” Mycoskie told The Buffalo News in an emailed statement. “Children could not attend school and were susceptible to contracting soil-based diseases and infections. Shoe drives typically took place to help provide for them, but I wanted to find a way to be able to consistently provide for [these] kids.”
“This is where I had the idea to start TOMS – and would sell a pair of shoes and then in return, give a pair of new shoes to a child in need,” Mycoskie explained. “Business and doing good were no longer mutually exclusive but could go hand in hand to do even more good.”
Mycoskie, who responded to The News’ questions by email, stated that this will be his first time speaking in Western New York.
His 2011 book, “Start Something That Matters,” was chosen by the university community as the “UB Reads” title for 2012.
Mycoskie, who attended Southern Methodist University and currently lives on a boat near the TOMS office in Southern California, told The News that TOMS has given away more than 2 million pairs of shoes to children in need in more than 40 countries.
As part of the company’s new project to help the needy with eyesight issues, Mycoskie stated that the company would be trying to reach 100,000 people with vision problems by the end of the year.
Mycoskie stated in his email that the challenges of these projects will keep him busy in the near future.
“Right now, our primary focus is learning more about using the One for One program through TOMS eyewear and addressing this global need,” he stated. “It is my hope to address other needs around the world with TOMS, but [I] just don’t know what that looks like [yet].”
Mycoskie, whose parents and siblings live near him in California and who is newly married – his bride is Heather Lang, an actress – said that TOMS helps those in need domestically, not just abroad.
“In the U.S., we give TOMS shoes with National Relief Charities, an organization that serves Native American reservations throughout the Southwest and Plains regions,” Mycoskie stated in his email. “We are also able to give sight in the U.S. through our sight-giving partner, Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program.”
Mycoskie said that he is pleased to be able to help people at home, as well as around the globe.
“We could not be more humbled to give right here in our own country,” he stated, “while also helping abroad.”
For more information on the Mycoskie event, see the Distinguished Speakers Series website, at www.student-affairs.buffalo.edu/special/distinguishedspeakers.php.