In its 15th year, footwear brand Toms is moving away from its pioneering One for One giving model to a new impact strategy, which will see it donate a third of its annual net profits to grassroots organisations.
The evolution of its new giving model is in response to the question it has been asking itself, “are we having the greatest impact,” and after impacting more than 100 million lives giving shoes, sight, safe water and impact grants, the footwear brand is saying it can do more.
Following more than a year of research and what Amy Smith, Toms chief strategy and impact officer calls “soul-searching,” Toms is flipping the traditional corporate model on the head once again. While Toms, founded by Blake Mycoskie, became known for its promise to donate a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair sold, the new-look Toms has decided it can have more impact by committing to give at least one-third of its annual net profits.
On a Zoom interview, Smith explained to FashionUnited: “We’re incredibly proud of the work that we’ve done over the 15 years of Tom’s existence, and we’re celebrating impacting 100 million lives through our shoes and water giving. We are known for an iconic shoe and as the original One for One company, giving is in our DNA and our new strategy is focused on the issues that matter most to our consumers.”
On paper, it seems like a considerable shift in strategy, but for Toms, they are focusing on what they call the next evolution of the brand, in which it can help “create a more equitable world,” adds Smith.
Toms committing to donating at least a third of its annual net profits to grassroots organisations
This is much more than just “cutting a big cheque” for charities, Smith notes that Toms will be focused on working with community-driven organisations that cater towards promoting mental health, increasing access to opportunities, and ending gun violence - elements it claims are “essential for progress to take root”.
The aim Toms states is to help “lay the groundwork to create equity for all people, particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, LGBTQ+, and women and girls” through a community of partners.
The re-imagined impact strategy will allow it to support organisations such as Centrepoint in the UK and Life Camp in New York that are driving change from the ground up. In its 2019 and 2020 impact report, Toms gave 4,436,000 US dollars to its 71 partners in 28 countries, alongside more than 7 million pairs of shoes.
“With a whole lot of research and a bit of soul-searching, we have learned that there is so much we can do when we come together as a community,” added Smith. “We’re working with local organisations and grassroots leaders to help them bring those visions to life with a focus on creating a more equitable world. We are the shoes that stand up for people making impact on the ground.”
A third is also a significant number to donate, with Toms saying that through consumer insights the number resonates. With Smith saying that the next generation of consumers recognise that the most important way of giving back is “through giving dollars to things”.
Smith added: “Consumers are very savvy, very smart and on top of the issues that our communities are facing and they’re voting with their wallets and the issues that they care about most every single day.
“The third of profits is resonating, but of course, we have a lot of work to do, we need to educate and engage with the consumer through their purchase, and beyond.”
Toms shifting from One for One giving model to grants-based model
Toms has ended its shoe giving approach in the last six months and has been actively looking at its local community to find organisations to work with. It is aiming to bring on around 10 new partners in the next coming months, however, Ian Stewart, Toms chief marketing and digital officer was quick to state that “it isn’t about quantity of partners, it is about quality partners”.
Smith, added: “We’ve been spending the last year really thinking about the strategy. We’ve been doing research on what are the most critical issues around equity, what are the foundational elements needed in order to build more equity in the world.”
While there isn’t a formal application process for organisations to receive a grant from the footwear brand, Toms notes that there is a “thoughtful vetting process” that is better described as an “interactive conversation” with the charity to get to know Toms and understand how the brand can help.
Toms Covid-19 fund generates more than 2 million US dollars
The grants-based model has been put to the test by Toms through its Covid-19 Global Giving Fund launched in April 2020. For five months, Toms directed a third of the net profit from every product sold to the fund, generating more than 2 million US dollars in support of global relief efforts. These funds are being utilised by partners on the frontlines of the pandemic, including Americares, BRAC, Crisis Text Line, International Medical Corps, Partners in Health, The Mix, and WaterAid. Initiatives that Toms helped to fund included building hygiene stations and providing reusable masks to underserved communities in Bangladesh.
But how can a global company make sure that this new strategy resonates with its local consumers, well it all starts in its own backyard explains Toms in Los Angeles where they are headquartered.
Smith, explained: “We are looking to really have local impact so we’re talking to organisations in different communities and truly at the community level, the organisations we know are doing really interesting things on the ground.
“We have some things happening in Oakland, in Austin, and on the East Coast, and we’ve been working on a couple of things in the UK specifically, our first stop in Europe, and we’ll grow from there. We are looking at where we can have the greatest impact in those markets.”
Stewart added: “Honing in on equity, which is universally global and something that we all need to work harder at and then specific areas like mental health, another global issue, we’ll get a lot more synergy.”
Existing partners that Toms will be working with going forward include Cities United, which focuses on reducing homicides and shootings of young Black men and boys in the US, Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry programme in the world and Magic Bus that ensure girls and boys in India complete their education and build the skills they need to move out of poverty.
Toms has impacted over 100 million lives since 2006
While social impact is a focus for Toms, the footwear brand has also been recertified as a B Corp company, increasing its score by 25 points. Its strongest category is community, however, the biggest contributor to their score increase in 2020 was the progress made in environmental efforts, which nearly doubled.
This increase in its environmental score was helped by Toms’ dedicated Earthwise product line, increased percent spend on sustainable materials, office energy efficiency improvements and tracking and product accreditations and certifications like Leather Working Group, Canopy and Repreve.
Toms adds that sustainability is a collective responsibility and will continue to take a “holistic approach with ethical and eco-conscious practices throughout the business” through new and existing product offerings, processes, packaging and vendors.
Magnus Wedhammar, Toms chief executive, who joined the company in January 2020, said in a statement: “It is of utmost importance not only as a global brand, but a leader in a larger movement to better the world, that Toms represent the highest standards of corporate social responsibility.
“We are deeply proud of what Toms has done through its giving efforts and we’re always striving to do even more. Our team is excited to continue working towards a goal of creating a better tomorrow - where all communities, big or small, can truly thrive.”
Toms commits to sustainability alongside social impact
Stewart, added over Zoom: “We believe that sustainability is a foundational people stake, and it’s not something that we’ve chosen to lead with as a brand. I know in Europe, there’s a lot more of a sharp point around sustainability, but I think we’re evolving to the point where all brands need to be responsible, sustainable, traceable, and moving towards materials that are reusable or recyclable, so we just don’t think it’s a sharp point.
“What we do think is the sharp point is leading with our social, you know, the social issues, and doing good in our communities. I honestly think in five years time, all brands will be far more sustainable and it won’t be something that people talk about, it will just be a thing you do. Whereas I think doing good in the community, is something that I think we all have to increasingly think about.”
However, Toms added that it will have about 30 percent sustainable products in the next 12 months. This is being driven by the brand’s Earthwise framework, where products must meet certain sustainable criteria, such as being made using 100 percent chemical-free plant dye and organic cotton and having at least 50 percent Repreve recycled polyester.
Each season the collection of shoes for adults and children falling under the umbrella of Earthwise has been growing, including the addition of the iconic Toms Alpargata, which was relaunched in several vibrant colourways. The new Alpargata is 100 percent vegan and the heritage canvas upper is a textile blend made with majority jute, a preferred eco-friendly fibre using fewer chemicals and less water than traditional fibres to grow.
Footwear brand Toms hoping that youthful consumer can boost company
Alongside Toms evolution of its impact structure and sustainability credentials, the footwear brand is also rolling out a new visual identity, described by Stewart as a “complete creative overhaul” to highlight its impact on the ground.
Stewart, who has been brought in to oversee all aspects of the footwear brand’s marketing and direct-to-consumer functions and to focus on a younger demographic, explained that the new look of Toms can be seen through more youthful and vibrant photography with a focus on diversity.
“It’s interesting that we’re not casting models, as much as we’re casting people who are social activists, so we can tell their stories as well use them behind the camera and in front of the camera, so that’s exciting shift,” added Stewart.
Toms will also be launching a brand new website at the end of the month, which Stewart explained had been “accelerated” due to the surge in e-commerce caused by the pandemic.
There will also be a focus on cultivating a younger audience, with fan favourites being re-introduced starting with a new, diversified version of the Alpargata launching in June called the Mallow, a sneaker-style shoe with exaggerated details, described by Stewart as being “wider, higher, puffier and fun”.
The company will also streamline its focus to shoes, eyewear and the recently launched socks.
“The brand has kind of is aged with its consumers,” added Stewart. “We have a huge loyal base of women who buy from us, who have been buying us for 15 years. They probably came to the brand in their early 20s and now they’re in their late 30s, early 40s, which is great and that’s a really loyal base for us, but we hadn’t really been thinking much about refocusing to a more younger demographic.
“The reason that we’re choosing this direction and areas of impact is that they are relevant for the younger demographics, particularly mental health. Plus overhauling the creative direction by putting more colour and vibrancy we are making it more youthful and then we have the new products targeting people in their early 20s.”
Images: courtesy of Toms