Toms Shoes: A Venice shoe-in

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.

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.”

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