TOMS Shoes are a stylish take on the traditional Argentine alpargata slip-on, appealing at once to the Polo Ralph Lauren crowd, surfers and skaters, as well as those of us in between. Yet, the shoes are more than just that. Founded on ethics of social responsibility, they are produced in Argentina in sweatshop free environments. Though it is not necessarily a “green” company, all aspects of the production are monitored to ensure fair labor practices and minimize environmental impact.
When the founder, Blake Mycoskie, discovered alpargatas in Argentina, he was also struck by the poverty that pervaded, and wanted to create a vehicle that could help him make an impact. For every pair someone purchases, TOMS Shoes donates one to a child in need in developing nations. Calling the idea “One to One,” over 60,000 pairs of shoes had been distributed to children between 2006-2007 in Argentina and South Africa.
Blake Mycoskie’s story is an unlikely one. A former contestant on “The Amazing Race,” he was inspired by the low-cost alpargatas while taking polo lessons in Argentina. Alpargatas are traditionally canvas slip-on shoes, synonymous with gauchos, polo culture, and the Argentine countryside.
Treehugger ran with this story nearly two years ago as TOMS first come out. Since then, the company has verged on cult status. So far the company has sold over 200,000 shoes, has recently struck licensing deals with Ralph Lauren, and can now even be found at Whole Foods. It has generated various fan sites, has appeared on major news networks, and also won the Cooper-Hewitt People’s Design Award in 2007.
As one site calls it “informal glamor,” at the end of the day, TOMS Shoes is all about calzados. Meaning footwear in Spanish, the term itself also has another connotation. Calzados are also providers. In this case, TOMS is providing kids across the world with basic necessities. Yet it is also providing people with purchasing power to make a difference from the US and across the internet.