If the founder of a multimillion dollar company defined wealth as people with nearly no material goods, it would be shocking. But when Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, pinpointed the richness he experienced among the poorest people he met in Ethiopia, it’s not wholly unexpected.
“They were living with no plumbing, no electricity, in these mud huts,” said Mycoskie. “And these people were the happiest people I’ve ever seen. I remember coming back to Venice (Calif.) to my fancy loft and I had all this stuff and I was always worried about all these things. They had more time with families, more time with their friends. Rich is being free to love the people you care the most about. And to actually have time. I think that’s the most important resource in the world.”
It’s something the Chief Shoe Giver at TOMS tries to remember even when he’s not traveling the world on “giving trips” to places such as Rwanda, Honduras and Haiti. TOMS’ motto of “One for One” appeals to the socially conscious customer of the company’s shoes, eyewear and, just recently announced, TOMS Roasting Co. One bag of coffee is equal to funding one week of clean water to a person in need.
Mycoskie’s trips around the globe provide the inspiration for the company’s products. He began TOMS after a trip to Argentina where he saw the critical need for shoes. Now in its eighth year, the company has 400 employees and its products are sold in 28 different countries. So far, TOMS has given away 10 million pairs of shoes. But the giveaways drew criticism as well -- what some saw as mere charity and not enough of an investment in alleviating poverty’s root causes, especially education and job creation.
“It’s true that no good deed goes unpunished,” said Mycoskie. “First I ignored it, then I got angry and finally I embraced it. I’m thankful for that criticism.”
So to invest in communities, TOMS set up a shoe manufacturing center in Haiti. And it works directly with coffee farmers in countries such as Rwanda, Guatemala and Peru for its newest product. Mycoskie said he intends to focus on the coffee endeavor through the summer and then turn to yet another new product in the Fall, mentioning banking, food and hospitality as possible fields to explore.
Rolling out TOMS Roasting Co. also coincides with Mycoskie’s return to his company. He took a little over a year off to recharge because “I hit a point where I was running so hard.”
He continued: “I love what I do. But I had to take time for myself and check in. It wasn’t until the idea of the coffee business that I wanted to come back full force. I love the start of something. For my enthusiasm and passion to be sustained for a long time, I’ve got to be focused on the next thing, the new product, new ways to help.”
ABC News' Arthur Niemynski contributed to this episode.