TOMS One for One concept inspires social entrepreneurs behind sustainable eyewear

The story behind TOMS is well-known. The brand behind the One for One concept – “With every pair purchased, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need” – has given over two million pairs of new shoes to children in need since it began in 2006.

TOMS distribute shoes to more than 50 countries around the world including Argentina, Peru, Haiti, Pakistan, Malawi and India.

In 2011, the company launched a range of sunglasses and with it was born the TOMS eyewear philosophy – when a customer buys a pair of TOMS Eyewear, the company provide ‘giving partners’ with funding to restore or save the sight of one individual.

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes who is known as the ‘chief shoe giver’, has come under a share of criticism for his business model.

Some have accused TOMS of being just simply a “great marketing campaign”, of disrupting local economies and some even going as far as faulting the for-profit organisation’s charitable shoe giving as serving little more than a “short-term fix” in countries where “long-term” solutions are needed.

Businesses, regardless of their cause, are under scrutiny by those who will examine their integrity to see if they “walk their talk”.

For TOMS, the company’s business model is simple – One for One – nowhere within it is it making the claim to provide “long-term” solutions in the developing world, in spite of those who see it as a “band-aid”.

Long-term solutions to worldwide problems such as poverty, the environment and social inequality is not something an individual fashion label, no matter how successful or well-known it is, can solve single-handedly.

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What it takes is a growing number of people and businesses with a passion and desire to make a difference in the world to collectively bring about change that provides for long-term solutions.

Entrepreneurship in all its facets makes a difference – the ability to start a business allows many people to make a living and to live their passion; it challenges traditional business models; and it enables entrepreneurs to make a positive contribution in many ways.

Being a social entrepreneur does not necessarily mean that you go off and set-up a company selling organic produce. Rather it means taking factors such as the environment, poverty or social equality into consideration when making business decisions, no matter what is at the core of what your business offers or sells.

What companies such as TOMS have done has spurned and inspired a number of young social entrepreneurs keen to incorporate actions into their business model that helps to make the world a better place.

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The sheer simplicity of the One for One concept that has become synonymous with the brand has made it possible for more like-minded business start-ups to do the same. Some companies provide citizens of the developing countries, including indigenous communities, a chance to earn a living by producing artisan products to sell around the world.

With more and more businesses operating in this manner, it is these small, independent companies that are shifting the old business model in a new direction, and one that can bring about change in the world.

Labels such as Grown and Wear Panda have borrowed from the TOMS’s model and have taken social enterprise a step further by offering sustainable eyewear.

The brainchild of a group of surfers in Australia’s Byron Bay, Grown was set up in 2010 “to design, produce and provide original, organic and sustainable wooden eyewear that looks great and ‘does good'”.

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Grown’s waterproof sunglasses are handcrafted from durable bamboo and hardwoods, and with all materials used, are free from harmful or toxic elements.

The company was first inspired by Australian eye doctor and social justice activist, Fred Hollows, who devoted his life to improving the health of indigenous communities and reducing the cost of eye health care in developing countries.

As a result, Grown supports the ‘Gift of Sight’ programs and with every purchase of sunglasses made, the company fully funds sight-restoring surgery for one individual or eye examinations for 12 children.

Similarly US-based Wear Panda gives the gift of vision to someone in need for every purchase of their high-end sunglasses handcrafted from sustainable bamboo.

The brand was born in early 2012 by a group of college friends. Their story is one that is becoming more and more common among social entrepreneurs seeking support for their businesses.

Determined to make their vision a reality, the Panda Team shared their concept with the crowd-funding community at Kickstarter.com. With overwhelming support, the project reached their fundraising goal in only 3 days, thanks to 300 supporters.

proof eyewear

Proof Eyewear, set up by three brothers in Idaho, also use sustainable materials to produce their sunglasses and frames for prescription glasses. As well as “doing good for mother nature’, as the company put it, they also contribute a large part of their sales to a charity in India that provides sight–giving cataract surgeries to those in need.

It will be interesting to see how these social entrepreneurs develop their businesses over time. There is much movement for such tribes of social entrepreneurs – be they surfers, a group of college friends or a band of brothers – to adapt their business models and to find other creative ways to build on their strategy’s strengths.

These simple yet effective approaches are revolutionising how people live their passions, do business while making a difference to the world in which we live on.

Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a journalist who writes about sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com

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