Thursday, November 8, 2007

This is a story about a fashion altruist. Never heard of such a thing? Well, meet Blake Mycoskie, a young entrepreneur and former "Amazing Race" contestant.

When the enterprising Texan took a vacation in Argentina 18 months ago, he was struck by two things: the simple style of the alpargata, a traditional Argentine rope-soled shoe, and the absence of shoes of any kind among the adults and children in a village he visited.

"The story sounds cheesy, but I had this vision," Mycoskie says. "That I'd start a shoe company, and for each pair sold, a pair would be given to someone in need." And that's just what happened. They'd be "Shoes for Tomorrow" (TOMS for short).

Mycoskie updated his version with a flip-flop bottom for comfort and a luxe leather insole (the same Argentine leather used by Salvatore Ferragamo). He offered more than two dozen styles.

The shoes were quickly adopted by the fashion pack, and the original batch of 250 he hoped to sell surpassed 10,000 in less than a year. As promised, Mycoskie and friends returned to Argentina and distributed the shoes to various villages.

By the time this is published, Mycoskie will have just landed in South Africa for the second shoe drop mission -- with more than 50,000 TOMS to donate.

Philanthropic mission aside, the shoe's effortless styling recently received the Cooper-Hewitt People's Design Award.

His basic canvas style has been upgraded for fall, with burlap, corduroy and suede. "I love those," Mycoskie says. "Because even when it's cold, you can wear them without socks." After all, what guy in fashion is wearing socks now, anyway?

-- Cory Ohlendorf

© 2007 The Washington Post Company