10 Questions for Amy Smith at TOMS
All Images: TOMS
For 15 years TOMS signature Alpargata shoe has been synonymous with giving back. We speak to Amy Smith, the woman behind TOMS new giving programme which places Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at it’s heart.
TOMS is a globally recognised brand. Not just for it’s simple but statement making shoes, the Alpargata, but also for it’s revolutionary approach to business. The brand began in 2006, founded by entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie. He had a crazy idea: produce traditional alpargatas in Argentina, then for every pair he sold, he would give a pair to a child without shoes. What began as a very simple ‘one for one’ business model, became the most recognised shoe around. The TOMS Alpargata became synonymous with giving. If you owned a pair, that meant you were part of this unique giving experience.
Fast forward 15 years and while Blake is no longer at the helm of TOMS, they are celebrating impacting 100 million lives. The company still produces shoes but the way they give back has changed. They recently underwent a radical policy change, taking them back to the very roots of TOMS and the shoe that started it all. We were lucky enough to speak to Amy Smith, Chief Strategy and Impact Officer for TOMS. Through her experience working across the charity sector as well as helping to launch the first Apple stores, Amy is helping to replenish the footwear brand so it can continue it’s giving work long into the future.
The Vendeur: Can you tell us a bit about your career to date and how you came to join TOMS as the Chief Giving Officer and now Chief Strategy and Impact Officer?
Amy Smith: I’m the Chief Strategy and Impact Officer at TOMS. I have been at the organisation for about 5 years where I originally joined as the Chief Giving Officer. Prior to TOMS, I was the Chief Strategy Officer and President of Action Networks for Points of Light, which is the world’s largest organisation dedicated to volunteer service. I also spent a portion of my career at Apple helping to lead their retail initiative. There I was part of the original team that opened the first 50 Apple retail stores. All of these experiences, from working in technology, to a start-up and a non-profit, have brought me to this work at TOMS. It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring together lots of learnings across sectors and industries into one role.
My role at TOMS has expanded to also oversee corporate strategy. Giving is built into TOMS DNA. It’s at the center of everything we do. By bringing these two critical functions together under one leader, we are able to more holistically build our business and impact strategy. One cannot happen without the other.
TV: What sort of people work on the TOMS Giving team?
AS: As TOMS Chief Strategy and Impact Officer, I oversee all aspects of TOMS Giving. This includes developing and driving our impact strategy, managing relationships with over 70 giving partners and measuring impact. I do this across our social and environmental sustainability efforts. We are also creating ‘on the ground’ giving experiences where our employees and supporters get to experience our giving first hand in the field.
In addition I have the great honor of managing and supporting our dedicated giving team. The team is made up of experts in non-profit management, public health, international development and beyond. They research, engage with and vet giving partners, manage grants and nurture our relationships with the grassroots leaders and organisations in their communities. Having learned so much about partnerships through giving shoes, sight and water, the team really understands what effective impact looks like and how to deliver it. We all take the power of our consumer’s purchase very seriously. We want to ensure the greatest impact possible with every dollar we give. The members of TOMS giving team are the ones who are making sure our grants contribute to a more equitable world.
TV: After almost 15 years of the ‘One for One’ model, what prompted TOMS to make changes to the giving strategy?
AS: Turning 15 has been a moment of celebration and reflection. We are proud of the 100 million lives we’ve impacted together with our community through our shoe, sight, water, and impact grants giving. At the same time, we have seen the world around us change, so we also took time to reflect and ask ourselves if we can evolve to create even more meaningful impact.
We also listen to our customers and partners and conduct diligent research. In addition to this, the learnings that we took from over 14 years of giving made it clear that we have an opportunity, or perhaps even a responsibility, to evolve and grow. We have made the bold decision to change our impact model from One for One shoe giving to instead focusing on impact grants. We continue to remain grounded in our mission of using business to improve lives. Today we commit a third of profits to grassroots good in support of building a more equitable world. This new way of creating impact allows us more flexibility to address issues that are affecting our communities.
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TV: How did you come up with the three new pillars of giving and what do they mean for TOMS going forwards?
AS: Our vision is that of a thriving humanity. This is something we can only achieve through the relentless pursuit of equity. We were very intentional in our choice of words. Equity, versus equality, takes into account individual circumstances, providing people and communities with the resources they really need. We have organised our impact efforts to focus on three main giving pillars that are deeply interconnected. Together they help lay the groundwork to create meaningful change for all people, particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color, LGBTQ+, and Women & Girls. These areas are; mental health, access to opportunity, and ending gun violence in the US.
TV: What is Grassroots impact and why does it hold the most significance for TOMS?
AS: Grassroots good is the result of a community mobilising to address an issue they’re impacted by, like services that are scarce, or statistics that are too high. These efforts are highly effective because they are led by passionate and creative members of the community. People whose actions are rooted in a deep understanding of the unique challenges their communities face. These community leaders have the vision, networks and tactical ideas to address those challenges, but they don’t always have the resources. That’s where TOMS can now effectively support them, making their efforts scalable and sustainable with grants, but also by sharing their stories.
“Equity, versus equality, takes into account individual circumstances, providing people and communities with the resources they really need.” – Amy Smith
TV: Do you think that this new giving model should be the future of business?
AS: We’ve seen other businesses who were inspired by TOMS incorporating social impact into their business models. I’m proud others have followed suit and found new and innovative ways to give. My hope is that many more businesses will do the same. I firmly believe that the more we, businesses and the non-profit community, working together on the biggest issues facing our community, the quicker we will see humanity thriving. Together, we can create a better tomorrow.
TV: Equity is a big part of TOMS, how does this impact the teams, grassroots organisations you work with as well as the brand as a whole?
AS: Creating a more equitable world is embedded in our impact model, we give 1/3 of our profits to grassroots good. Equity is what guides our giving team through the extensive vetting process when identifying the right partners to work with to have the greatest impact. However it doesn’t begin and end with our giving. We are also committed to doing the work within our own four walls. We are consistently assessing our internal business and employment practices. Together with external consultants, leading experts and our TOMS DEIA committee, we have developed an action plan to achieve further diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the organisation. We know we have work to do and we are committed to a long term and sustainable approach to doing better.
TV: Why is it important to measure the impact for the Giving initiatives and do you think they will continue to grow and evolve?
AS: It’s important that we uphold our commitment to providing best in class giving and in order to make sure we’re providing that, we measure our impact. This allows us to learn and adjust as necessary to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the partners we work with.
We are in regular contact with our giving partners who report on the impact made through TOMS giving. The reporting is shared in our annual Impact Report which allows us to reflect, celebrate, share lessons learned and set future impact goals.
The most recent report, which is available on TOMS.com, is really special to us because it highlights the fact that we have impacted over 100 million lives since TOMS was founded. It provides a look ahead at what the future of TOMS giving looks like. Our new impact model allows us to impact even more lives and address the most pressing issues facing our communities today. We will continue to track our progress together with our partners and customers and we will continue our commitment to ensuring we have the greatest impact possible with our giving. We owe that to our partners, the communities they work in and of course the incredible TOMS community that chooses to support through their purchase.
TV: You also manage TOMS’s environmental sustainability efforts. How do you think social impact and environmental impact work are linked?
AS: At TOMS, we believe that for humanity to thrive we also need to take care of the place we all call home. We are proud to be part of the B Corp community, a global group of for-profit companies that meet the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. Its a 360 degree approach to evaluating a business’ impact.
We have just been re-certified as B Corp with a score of 121.5, which is an increase of around 25 points compared to our original score. This is mostly due to the progress we made in our environmental efforts. This increase was driven by our dedicated earthwise™ product line. As well as an increased spend on sustainable materials, office energy efficiency improvements, and tracking and product accreditations and certifications like Leather Working Group, Canopy and REPREVE®.
Over the next five years, we will be expanding our sustainable practices in key areas of the business. This means, for example, expanding earthwise™ to include more products and innovative, earth-friendly materials. We will also extend our use of greener packaging as well as reduce our carbon footprint year over year.
TV: You have recently gone back to TOMS’s roots in terms of shoe design. The Alpargata is now featured more prominently in different variations. Why was this important and does it coincide with the change to the giving model?
AS: The Alpargata is the TOMS icon. It’s the shoe style that you think of when you think of TOMS. The wearer of the TOMS Alpargata is making a statement that they support a brand that aligns with their values. For us, impact and the Alpargata go together. We are celebrating this style by breathing new life into it through design and material innovation and bold styling. Our goal is to inspire a whole new generation of rebel optimists. Now that we have shared our new impact model with the world we are just as excited to share new styles of our iconic Alpargata.
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