TOMS Shoes founder visits Ball State to tell his story

Seven hundred students crammed into Pruis Hall to listen to the founder of TOMS Shoes speak last night.

Blake Mycoskie said he walked away from a successful business to start a company that gives used shoes to underprivileged children around the world.

He said he came up with the idea for TOMS Shoes on vacation in Argentina after meeting volunteers working on a shoe drive. After they explained they were dropping donated shoes off to young children, Mycoskie decided to go with them.

"I found myself two days later in a van with total strangers and a ton of shoes going to deliver these shoes," he said. "I'll never forget when I got to the village that first day, and I look around and I have all these kids that are so excited to get a pair of shoes and these weren't even new shoes."

Mycoskie said it was a joy to think about the kids' faces until someone asked him how the children would get their next pair of shoes.

"The more I started thinking about it, the more I realized that getting shoes to them once was great, but they really needed a sustainable way to get shoes over and over again," he said.

Mycoskie said he stayed an extra three weeks in Argentina so he could get 250 traditional Argentinan shoes made to sell in the United States. With each pair sold, he decided to give another one to a child.

A few months later, TOMS Shoes sold over 10,000 pairs of shoes after being featured in publications like the Los Angeles Times and Vogue, Mycoskie said.

He said he took his interns, family and a few friends for their first shoe drop-off.

"I'll never forget being there on my hands and knees and looking over and seeing my mom, who's the most compassionate person in the world, and she would take these children's feet and be wiping them off," he said. "She would take so much time for every single child. It was so touching and I was completely emotional."

Mycoskie challenged students to think about how to make business sustainable and to create something bigger than themselves that attracts amazing employees.

"When you're doing something good, something bigger than yourself, other people just naturally want to be a part of it and help you out," he said.

Junior business major Cody Brobst said Mycoskie's speech met his expectations for the most part, but he was disappointed to not hear more about his world view.

"I was wondering if there was a particular reason why he's passionate about getting shoes to children," he said. "I just felt it was a little ambiguous, but I was still satisfied with his presentation."

Brobst was one of 700 students who were able to hear Mycoskie speak. Mitch Isaacs, associate director of Student Life, said that over 100 students were denied entrance to the presentation because Pruis was at full capacity.

Isaacs said it's difficult to ensure every student who wants to see speakers can get in. Pruis seats 700 people and it costs money to host programs in Emens Auditorium, which seats 3,000 people.

"It's really difficult because there's no in-between space," he said.

Isaacs said it was hard for Student Life to estimate how many students would attend because of the rededication ceremony at the Student Center, Gov. Mitch Daniels' speech, it being the first week back from Spring Break and St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

"We thought all those things might impact the turnout. It's like having to predict the weather," he said. "I think [the large turnout] just confirms that our students are passionate about making a difference."

Frequently asked questions about TOMS:
What does TOMS stand for?
The idea came from buy shoes today, give them away tomorrow. TOMS is just short for tomorrow.

Besides buying TOMS Shoes, how can people get involved?
Students can apply for internships for the fall, spring and summer online.

When is the next shoe drop?
TOMS Shoes now give away shoes six days a week, but the next large drop-off will be in a month or two.

Are TOMS Shoes still made in Argentina?
Yes, but they're also made in other countries such as China and Ethiopia.


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