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.
"Starbucks took the college coffee shop and provided it to the masses," said Mycoskie, 36, who gives speeches around the world and hobnobs with the likes of former President Clinton and retired Anglican Archbishop of South Africa Desmond Tutu.
"They provided a third place that was not home or the office. My concern with what has happened, and this is no knock on Starbucks, is that they have become workplaces and don't have as much of a community feel anymore. I'm trying to create a third place in Venice for people to have community engagement."
Mycoskie points to a newsstand holding copies of GQ, Green Parent and other publications.
"I wanted to have those," he said. "I don't know if we'll sell any, but there isn't even any place on this whole street to buy a newspaper or magazine."
The vibe is boho clubhouse. Everywhere you look, there are mementos from Mycoskie's travels — an Ethiopian broom sits in one corner, a hand-carved Guatemalan bird perches on a nearby shelf, a string of Tibetan prayer flags flutters across the eaves, and children's drawings are tacked everywhere. A large map on the wall charts the company's progress, with pins in the 54 countries where Toms has organized "shoe drops" to donate footwear. The youthful and lighthearted company culture is reflected in the bulletin board ephemera, which includes photos of employees at the annual Movember party, inside jokes (including a Lionel Richie "Have you seen me?" poster) and fabric swatches from the design team.
No doubt, Mycoskie would like to have a Toms store on every cool street in America. If this first one works, he hopes to open more of these kinds of community spaces and fund them through the sale of Toms products, coffee and snacks.
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, 1344 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 314-9700.