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Defining Moments

Changing the world one step at a time

  • Story Highlights
  • Blake Mycoskie talks about his innovative business, TOMS Shoes
  • He wants to provide children in need with shoes in a sustainable way
  • Mycoskie wants other firms to incorporate the idea of "one-for-one" giving
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Blake Mycoskie is the founder and "chief shoe giver" of TOMS Shoes, a company that matches every pair of shoes it sells with a free pair to an impoverished child.

The realization that he could make money and give it away at the same time was a defining moment of his life, Mycoskie says.

Blake Mycoskie started TOMS Shoes in 2006. The company is committed to giving free shoes to poor children around the world.

CNN caught up with the 32-year-old entrepreneur to talk about the inspiration behind his revolutionary business and what he has planned next.

CNN: Tell us about the TOMS model.

Mycoskie: The TOMS initiative is very simple: For every pair of shoes we sell, we give a pair away. When we know that say, we're going to sell 10,000 pairs this spring, we make another 10,000 to be given away.

CNN: Where did you get the idea to start TOMS?

Mycoskie: I decided to go back to some of the places that my sister and I had visited on "The Amazing Race." [Mycoskie and his sister participated in the reality TV show in 2002.]

I found myself going on to Argentina. I went to some of the villages and it was one of the defining moments of my life when I saw these kids not wearing shoes.

That's where I kind of had this 'ah ha' moment. I started thinking, what if I started a business where every time I sold a pair of shoes, I would guarantee that customer that I would give another pair to someone who does not have shoes?

CNN: How did you pursue your vision? Did you have any experience as a designer or shoemaker?

Mycoskie: I had absolutely no experience in shoes or fashion so I approached the business how I have done everything in my life, and that's with reckless ambition.

There were a lot of really cool styles of shoes in Argentina that we did not have in the United States so I picked one of them, the alpargata, and I started figuring out how to make shoes.

CNN: Did you expect the company to be a big success when you launched?

Mycoskie: I was not really looking to make any money on the deal. I wanted to be able to sell the shoes for enough money to give away another pair and to hire one or two people to administer it and keep it going once I went back to work.

But what I found was that not only did people find this concept just very intriguing - from a fashion perspective, people loved these shoes. All of a sudden I started selling in the top boutiques.

CNN: When did you realize that TOMS was going to be much more than a small project?

Mycoskie: I think the crowning moment was when Vogue magazine called and that was a few months after we started. That was when I was really like, 'Wow, this is not just some small little shoe philanthropy that I have created.'

This could be a real business and it could be a real player in the fashion industry and it could really set a tone for how fashion companies could give back.

CNN: Has philanthropy always been a priority for you?

Mycoskie: I always thought that I would spend the first half of my life making money so I can spend the second half of my life giving it all away. And one of the defining moments of my life was when I realized that I could do both at the same time with TOMS.

CNN: What are some of your proudest achievements?

Mycoskie: One thing that is most unique about TOMS and I think that I'm most proud of is that every single pair [of shoes] is hand placed onto a child's foot.

CNN: How has TOMS evolved since you started it in 2006?

Mycoskie: A big part of our business that has changed over the past year is that now we also have a travel organization that takes volunteers all over the world on these trips and [they] get the experience of giving away the shoes.

CNN: Tell us about the process of producing TOMS.

Mycoskie: A very big passion of mine and that of the people that run our production is finding factories that have fair labor practices and treating them more like partners in our family than people just who are going to produce for us.

One of the things we have always done with all of our factories is I personally visit them and we actually show our documentary film about what we do. When you connect with the factory like that, everything goes much better.

CNN: You've called yourself a serial entrepreneur. Do you have another business in the pipeline?

Mycoskie: I can honestly say that TOMS is my future. I mean I have no desire to start any other company for as long as I live because this is the perfect blend of business and philanthropy to me.

CNN: What's next for TOMS?

Mycoskie: The future of TOMS is really creating a whole new business model of this one-for-one giving and expanding the TOMS model from shoes into other products as well.

So while we are not committed to doing anything else right now, we are looking for partners out there who have great products and that want to find a way to incorporate giving back.

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