By Star Noor, Features Editor
Blake Mycoskie is always on the search for ways of blowing every norm out of the water, setting new standards, and kicking ass for a good cause. While building what might have been called the first socially conscious fashion label into a globally recognized brand. Mycoskie is now helping find and incubate other purposeful brands.
A decade after the fact, you’d be hard pressed in finding folks who haven’t heard of Tom’s Shoes – the brand that took the concept of paying it forward by providing a pair of shoes to needy youth, in return for every pair purchased – or as they put it, “One for One.” At launch, only a very fledgling ethically conscious market existed – a market that not only survived but thrived, going beyond grassroots thanks in part to the honorable efforts of rebels with a cause, like Mycoskie. After recently selling a portion of his wildly successful company, Mycoskie decided to use his overall $200 million windfall to do something completely in character for him. He decided to create companies with acutely concentrated efforts to solve issues and do good, and to create a $100 million investment firm through Tom’s to help keep those investments funded. “Nobody was talking about social good, triple bottom line, or B Corps,” he says.
Through Toms Social Investment and other privately funded organizations, Mycoskie has made 16 investments ranging from $25,000 to 1 million dollars. This social investing has brought him to interests in companies that are ranging in innovative ground breaking goods and services including Ava, a soon to be released app that uses the device’s microphone to provide real-time-conversation text for those who are deaf and hard of hearing; Cotopaxi, an e-commerce adventure brand ranging in products such as jackets, tents, water bottles, etc. that are dedicated to relinquishing world poverty through grants and other programs like job placement; Owlets, smart socks which provide parents with the measurement of baby’s heart rates and oxygen levels; Laxmi, a socially conscious skincare product line which sources organic materials from female-driven providers around the globe; and Back to Roots, a DIY organic ready-to-eat gardening product line including homegrown mushrooms and tin-can herb gardens.
These efforts, Mycoskie explains, are a part of a “crusade to prove business can be a force for good.” In this effort, Mycoskie will also be acting consultant to the founders of each organization and plans to eventually bring them all together in a convention in 2017. Answering critics that this business model might be a part of the capitalist-flyby-philanthropy, Mycoskie explains that Toms does not just provide shoes but also offers a myriad of other aides such as sight serving surgeries, clean drinking water to needing nations, and creating jobs in areas such as Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
During a time that low company earning numbers have plagued Toms, Mycoskie has blithely declared that they will open up a one-for-one venture every coming year. “I made a lot of the mistakes founders typically make,” he says. “One example: Trying to drive that growth, I put too many butts in too many seats.” “I made a lot of the mistakes founders typically make,” he says. These mistakes, Mycoskie says, brought the company to a point that instead of “Kumbaya,” the pace everyday was more like “Shark Tank.”
“It got to the point that I didn’t want to come in myself.”
Working to solve these issues with a surge of funding, Mycoskie decided to sell 50% of the company to Bain Capitals, in a deal that valued the company at $625 million. “Bain has helped me really focus,” says Mycoskie, “Where can we win? How can we capitalize on the deep connection we have with our customers?”
The injection of funds allowed Mycoskie to not only reiterate the ‘what’ of Tom’s: a one-for-one business model, but also to reevaluate the ‘why?’ of the company. “The why of our mission is that we care for one another,” Mycoskie came to understand and proudly state. “Indeed, now that the old model has been fully appropriated, it’s time for something more expansive: Toms has launched ads that complement the “One for One” logo with the “For One, Another.” It’s a broader slogan, one that matches Mycoskie’s investment ambitions: “I’m going deep on the idea that social entrepreneurship can be the future business.”
Photo Credit: Tom’s Shoes