Thursday, January 27, 2011

The journey is the destination... being inspired by Dan Eldon

Of all the collections that TOMS has made, none have resonated deeper in my soul than the upcoming spring line inspired by Dan Eldon.

Dan was an artist, adventurer and activist who lived every day as though he was creating a work of art. In 1992, amid reports of widespread violence and famine, Dan drove from his home in Kenya to Somalia to witness the devastation with his own eyes. What he discovered was a country in chaos - villages turned into war zones and kids left in the street to beg for food. The photos that Dan took were picked up by news agencies around the world, and at age 22, Dan became one of the youngest photojournalists in the history of Reuters.

Dan's photos helped to trigger a global response to the unfolding tragedy in Somalia, and he stayed on to cover the story when the U.N. began sending food and peacekeepers to the ravaged country. But in 1993, disaster struck. After a botched military raid that left hundreds wounded and dead, angry Somalis attacked journalists who had arrived on the scene to cover the story. Tragically, Dan Eldon and three of his colleagues were beaten and stoned to death on July 12th, 1993.

In the aftermath of Dan's death, his mother, Kathy Eldon, published an incredible book, The Journey is the Destination, which compiled the photography, artwork and poetry of Dan's journals. I happened to see this book at a bookstore a few years before starting TOMS and read it cover-to-cover, completely mesmerized by Dan's life. Then, in 2008, I attended an Invisible Children rally and heard Kathy speak. It wasn't until after the event, however, that I put two-and-two together and connected Kathy with Dan and the stunning book that I'd discovered several years prior. I asked the IC guys to connect us... and Kathy and I spent a wonderful day together at her house in Malibu.

Finally, about a year ago, I was packing for a surf trip to Costa Rica and once again stumbled upon Dan's book. As I pored over the book on the plane, it struck me that the TOMS community should know Dan's story and that his life and journals would be a great inspiration for a future collection.

Today, I'm proud to announce that this vision has finally become a reality. Our new collection will officially be launching in February, and I really hope it inspires you to follow your creative dreams and use your talents to become a creative activist like Dan - transforming your bold ideas into positive action. May we all live with such boundless curiosity, optimism, and wild spirit...

PS - To learn more about Dan Eldon, go to You should also check out the Creative Visions Foundation - an organization created by Kathy Eldon and Amy Eldon Turteltaub to inform, inspire and empower the next generation of creative activists.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What makes a great employee?

The funny thing about starting a new business (or really any new project, for that matter), is that the most valuable interns and employees are sometimes the ones that have the least experience in what you're trying to accomplish. If you're following a set path, it makes sense to hire people that have seen-and-done what you're trying to do; but with new and innovative ideas, there is no "right way" of doing things, and when the path to success is unclear, the worst thing that you can have are preconceived notions.

When I was first starting TOMS, I pitched the idea to a college professor who said that I would need a million dollars to get the company off the ground. I spoke with veterans in the shoe industry that saw every reason why the idea would fail. "The math just doesn't work" they would say, or "the retail business is dying," or "there's no market for canvas slip-ons," and on and on. At the time, TOMS was comprised of myself, a few duffel bags of samples, a polo instructor pretending to be a shoemaker, and a handful of interns that I hired off of Craigslist. The idea was crazy... but my interns didn't know that. All they knew was that we were having fun, and that with a little creativity and resourcefulness, we could accomplish just about anything.

As TOMS has grown, we've continued to look for these same traits in the interns and employees that we hire. Are you passionate? Can you creatively solve problems? Can you be resourceful without resources? Do you have the compassion to serve others? You can teach a new hire just about any skill... but you absolutely cannot inspire creativity and passion in someone that doesn't have it.

Would you agree?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Making a difference... one kibble bit at a time.

In my last post, I wrote about facing fear and how the timing is never perfect for going after what you really want in life. As I was writing this blog, I stumbled across a really incredible website and the inspirational 14-year-old (Mimi Ausland) behind it all. Mimi's story proves that all of us - no matter where we are in life - have the capacity to start something that matters.

When Mimi was 11, she discovered - a website that donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme for every trivia question that you answer. Mimi liked the site so much that we showed her family, and soon all of them were glued to the screen answering question after question.

Growing up in Bend, Oregon, Mimi has always shared her life with animals. In addition to caring for the family golden retriever (Aspen), cat (Dorothy), hamster (Sunny) and horse, Mimi started volunteering at the local Humane Society when she was 7. Mimi knew that she wanted to help out in a bigger way... but it wasn't until she discovered that Mimi had her epiphany: If FreeRice is such a success, why not create a similar website that gives free kibble to homeless dogs and cats for every trivia question that users answer? And with that, was born.

Fast forward three years later, and has helped to provide nearly 4.5 million nutritious meals to dogs and cats and the site is the largest contributor of food to 13 animal shelters across the country. This past summer, Mimi was the catalyst for 320,000 people sending letters to President Obama in support of naming April 30th "National Adopt a Shelter Day." Mimi has been featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, named a "Hero Among Us" by People Magazine, and voted "Kid of the Year" by the ASPCA. Simply amazing.

Thank you Mimi for being such an inspiration... and for showing us that you're never too young to accomplish something great.

PS - Back home in Arlington, my parents have two golden retrievers (Noah and Sadie), four cats (Polka, Mr. Dot, Cupid and Shilo) and an opossum named Winnie (which Sadie rescued from our pool skimmer last April). According to my mom, all the animals get along great :)