On Monday, Nov. 15, the Chief Impact Officer of global shoe conglomerate TOMS, Amy Smith, spoke via Zoom to a Boston College business ethics class, Portico. Smith discussed the rebranding of TOMS, a transition the company has received backlash for, and the intersectionality and value proposition between strategy and social impact.
Smith began by introducing the company’s mission and value statements. The mission of TOMS, she said, is to improve lives while its vision statement stands “for an equitable tomorrow, where all people have a chance to thrive.”
As the CIO, Smith has multiple intersecting responsibilities such as the formulation of corporate-wide strategy across departments, the responsible allocation of consumer dollars to the company’s nearly thirty business partners, and the intake of consumer insights.
The iconic TOMS shoe, the Alpargata, has been the company’s chief social impact strategy for over fifteen years and has accumulated 84% brand awareness and resulted in the impact of over 100 million lives within this time.
The company’s social impact strategy has historically been to donate one pair of Alpargatas for every pair purchased, a one-for-one model. However, this strategy has recently shifted as TOMS now pledges that ⅓ of its profits will be redirected towards empowering communities via partnerships with other businesses. Smith noted that ⅓ of TOMS total profit matches the amount typically spent in the one-to-one shoe model.
But why pivot from such a successful business strategy? The answer lies within recent compelling trends and statistics regarding the push for Corporate America to transition to “social good work.” Increasingly, younger consumers have expectations for brands to do social and charity work.
In fact, 79% of young consumers (74% Gen Z and 82% Millennials) actively seek out brands that support causes they believe in. In response to consumer insight on the actions and causes consumers want to see, TOMS identified three areas of focus: equity in mental health, access to opportunities, and gun violence. TOMS will contribute ⅓ of its profits to grassroots organizations in these fields.
Smith concluded the conversation by explaining why TOMS has a centralized focus on equity rather than equality. An important distinction, Smith ended the discussion by stating, “Equality implies the same resource regardless of what is actually needed while equity gives people what they actually need considering peoples’ circumstances and providing them with the resources they need.”