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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011 8:01 a.m.

TOMS Shoes creator speaks at synagogue

Blake Mycoskie, creator of TOMS Shoes, spoke at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue Sept. 13 about sustainability, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Photo used by Creative Commons.

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Lauren Katz.

The man behind TOMS Shoes and the One for One movement paid a visit to the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue last night to tell the story of how the iconic and charitable fashion statement came to be. .

“We thought, if you buy the shoes today, another pair will be given to a child in need tomorrow. I wanted to call them Tomorrow Shoes but I couldn’t fit ‘Tomorrow’ on the tiny little label. So we called them TOMS,” creator Blake Mycoskie said.

Originating only five years ago, the TOMS shoe brand has given over 2 million pairs of shoes to children in need in third world countries. Mycoskie’s book, “Start Something That Matters,” reached the number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list – a fact Mycoskie was proud to announce he had found out that same day.

“Giving doesn’t just feel good, it’s actually really good for business,” Mycoskie explained, as he paced around the stage, appropriately clad in a pair of red and blue striped TOMS.

Though the evening was about sustainability, entrepreneurship and philanthropy, Mycoskie took no hazard in retelling the laborious times that eventually lead him to success.

It all started almost 10 years ago when Mycoskie and his sister were contestants on “The Amazing Race.” Although the siblings did not win, they were able to explore the world. Mycoskie said he was so impressed with Argentina that he made a second trip back, only to discover a group of women volunteering for a shoe drive. They collected slightly used shoes from wealthy children and redistributed them to underprivileged students a few miles down the road.

Mycoskie said he thought to himself, “This could be a great way to end my trip.”

“It was so amazing to see the absolute joy these kids had to be getting a pair of used shoes…. I’m so glad I had that experience,” he said.

The first 250 pairs of TOMS were handmade in Argentina, and 80 of those pairs were sold to a small boutique in Los Angeles. An L.A. Times article and 2,200 online orders later, Mycoskie was receiving phone calls from buyers at Nordstrom, Barney’s and Neiman Marcus.

“Nordstrom is like the holy grail of shoes,” Mycoskie said with a chuckle, reminding the audience that Nordstrom is now, in fact, his biggest customer.

Mycoskie’s story is a regular success story, but what makes him unique is his attitude towards the concept of philanthropy and business.

“When you incorporate giving into your company, you stop worrying about all your own stress,” Mycoskie said. “You realize we have it extremely good.”