Maker of Toms shoes expands into coffee roasting

Toms, the Los Angeles company known for its comfy, eco-friendly footwear and its shoes-donating ways, is tiptoeing into an unusual product line: coffee.

The philanthropic business, which sells shoes and eyewear under a One for One business model, made the announcement Tuesday in Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest Interactive conference.

For every bag of coffee purchased, Toms said it will be able to provide a week’s worth of clean water to a person in a developing country.

“Through my travels, I found that some of the greatest coffee comes from developing countries,” said Toms founder Blake Mycoskie in a statement. “I learned that the largest ingredient in coffee is water, and that in many of the countries producing coffee, there are huge populations of people without access to safe water.”

Citing a 2012 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study, the company said 1.8-billion people globally do not have access to safe drinking water. [For the record, 1:20 p.m. March 12: An earlier version of this post said that 1.8-million people don’t have access to safe drinking water water.]

Toms Roasting Co., as the business will be called, will sell six coffee varieties from countries that include Honduras, Peru and Malawi. The 12-ounce bags of coffee will retail for $12.99 and will be sold at Whole Foods Markets, on Toms’ website and at Toms cafes.

Toms, founded in 2006, began selling shoes with philanthropic intentions. For every pair sold, it donates a pair to someone in need in a developing country. In 2011, it expanded into eyewear and sales of those products helped the company donate glasses and fund glaucoma surgeries for people in other countries.

To date, the company has donated more than 10 million pairs of shoes and restored the eyesight of 200,000 people.

For its latest expansion, the company will work with Water for People, a nonprofit group that works to provide safe drinking water abroad.

Toms Shoes: A Venice shoe-in

Toms Shoes has opened its first retail store and community space, in Venice, barely an alpargata’s toss from the apartment living room where Blake Mycoskie started building his buy-one-give-one, commerce-meets-cause shoe empire six years ago.

Inhabiting a Craftsman-style cottage on Abbot Kinney, the 2,200-square-foot indoor-outdoor space feels like a college coffee house in all the right ways.

Created in collaboration with L.A.’s Commune Design, it boasts rough-hewn wooden walls and floors inside. Outside, there’s a back porch enclosed by a hodgepodge of corrugated roofing, canvas tenting and repurposed wood-frame windows. There’s a counter selling coffee by Caffecito, juice drinks from Pressed Juicery and kabocha squash loaf and other nibbles from Valerie Confections, all three L.A.-based purveyors. The backyard with artificial turf, benches and a free-standing fire pit is available for use by nonprofit groups. And a book exchange, free Wi-Fi and board games encourage hanging out. Of course, the full range of Toms products is available, including men’s, women’s and children’s shoes and boots, sunglasses, T-shirts and sweat shirts, and leather-bound Toms journals, modeled after Mycoskie’s own travel logs.

“We wanted to give something back to the community,” Mycoskie said. “As Toms has grown, I’ve been thinking about our mission. It’s about giving and one-for-one, which is why we sell shoes to give to children in need and sell eyewear to give cataract surgery to give sight. But more than that, I believe business can be used to improve people’s lives. And the only reason it makes sense to get into retail is to create community spaces to improve people’s lives.

Stand-alone retail is just the latest development for the company, which has seen tremendous growth since it was founded in 2006. Last spring, Toms launched eyewear, signaling that it would no longer be just a shoe company but a multiproduct company based on the one-for-one giving model. Mycoskie expects to launch a new product category in the next 12 to 24 months. He’s also working on pilot projects featuring manufacturing in Africa, to be announced in the spring. “We’ve heard loud and clear from our customers that they want more in-country production and more in-country job creation,” he said. “If we’re giving in these countries, we also need to be creating jobs and supporting entrepreneurs.”

The other big news in Mycoskie’s life? He and girlfriend Heather Lang tied the knot three months ago at the Sundance Resort in Utah, then embarked on a honeymoon that included visits to Thailand, Bali and India. “They were all places that neither of us had ever been,” he said. “It was fun to do some traveling that was not for work.”

Toms Shoes’ model is sell a pair, give a pair away

The power of shoes. It’s something most women and many men understand completely. And it is what transformed the young, shaggy-haired, rope-bracelet-wearing entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie into a visionary business leader hobnobbing with former President Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu in less than three years. The 32-year-old founded Toms Shoes based on the simple idea that for every pair of his canvas shoes you buy, a pair is given to a child in need.

To date, he’s given away 140,000 pairs of shoes in the U.S., Argentina, Ethiopia and South Africa. This year, Mycoskie expects to donate 300,000 pairs of shoes, bring in $13 million in sales and work toward his goal of eradicating podoconiosis in Ethiopia, a deforming foot disease caused by walking barefoot in silica-rich soil.

It doesn’t hurt that the Arlington, Texas, native has Clinton-like charisma, Hollywood good looks and lives on a boat in Marina del Rey with “Toms” sails. He’s living and selling the SoCal life — with a social conscience.

The shoes, featuring colorful geometric, tie-dye or glitter designs, start at $44 and come in men’s, women’s and children’s sizes. They’re sold at more than 500 stores nationwide and internationally, including Nordstrom and Whole Foods, which features styles made from recycled materials.

“When you’re buying a pair of Toms, if you don’t feel like you’re part of a community then I’ve failed,” he says.

Mycoskie has amassed followers while speaking around the country — at the White House, the 2009 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference and the Clinton Global Initiative Conference. Ralph Lauren asked him to work on a few styles for his Rugby collection, the first time Lauren has collaborated with another brand.

Toms employees are equally enthusiastic. Candice Wolfswinkel, the chief giving officer, worked for free for a year until Mycoskie could pay her. “He is not afraid to show his emotions to make sure people know they are appreciated,” she says. Caroline Zouloumian, chief financial officer and a Harvard MBA, left the world of finance for Toms. “He’s not egocentric like some entrepreneurs are,” she says. More than 1,000 people have applied for this year’s 15 summer internships at Toms.

So far, the company has turned only a marginal profit. Mycoskie says he will have to sell about 1 million pairs of shoes a year to be really profitable. He hasn’t taken on any outside investors.

“The goal isn’t how much money you make,” he says. “But how much you help people.”