Blake Mycoskie, Founder and “Chief Shoe Giver,” TOMS

2013 AIA Convention Special: Philanthropic Practices Engage Architects in Civic-Minded Optimism

Blake Mycoskie is a town crier of the 21st-century economy, broadcasting to business leaders a proclamation that is as tantalizing as it is unconventional: one can do well in business by doing good for society. Mycoskie, the TOMS shoes founder and “Chief Shoe Giver,” held an auditorium full of architects rapt at the 2013 AIA Convention. He delivered the emotionally potent story of how he started his business and how he learned that he could succeed beyond his wildest dreams by following his conscience and giving to others.

Indeed, Mycoskie’s message of altruism echoed the messages of AIA National’s leadership during an earlier part of the presentation. As Mickey Jacob, FAIA, 2013 AIA President, stated during the business portion of the address, the ongoing Repositioning of the Institute places renewed emphasis on the value and importance of the “citizen architect.” The intent is to promote leadership beyond architecture, and to highlight the service that the profession provides to communities across the globe. Tod Williams, FAIA, and Billie Tsien, AIA, winners of the 2013 AIA Firm Award, reiterated the importance of service during their brief remarks upon winning the award. Tsien eloquently summed up her firm’s approach when she said: “To be an architect is to be of service. If it is done with love, it is a noble act.”

Robert Ivy, FAIA, AIA CEO/EVP, disclosed that surveys done prior to the Repositioning indicated that the public still does not understand what architects do. Jacob’s solution was for designers to take greater civic roles in an effort to assist in raising the profile of the profession. In essence, architects need to learn to convey what we do and how much we care. We need to be vocal with greater frequency, and to express our sympathy toward our fellow man with conviction and sensitivity.

Little wonder, then, that Mycoskie was chosen to be the signature speaker of the first 2013 AIA National Convention keynote address. He is a model for architects seeking to tell a galvanizing and compelling humanitarian story. And like many designers, Mycoskie has an entrepreneurial streak. He started a number of companies before TOMS, but none achieved the same success.

Mycoskie argued that TOMS thrived because the company had a policy of philanthropy built into its business structure. The (now trademarked) “One-for-One” strategy – for every one pair of shoes purchased, one will be donated to a needy child – allowed every purchaser to be simultaneously consumer and donor. Cleverly, this strategy tapped into an innate human desire to help others. Once buyers attained the pleasure actualized by giving to their fellow man, they became evangelists for the product. The sales of TOMS exploded, such that the company has now donated 10 million pairs of shoes to impoverished children since 2006.

For Mycoskie, it was easy to conceive of ways in which architects could incorporate philanthropy into their business practices, whether through pro bono work, days of community service, or other strategies. Giving to our neighborhoods can only serve to engender good will and strengthen the public profile of the profession. Humanitarian effort activates the most positive side of architecture, and serving the greater good reflects our aspirations to make the world a better place. In this way, to paraphrase Billie Tsien, architecture can be an act of optimism.

Matt Shoor, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, is an architect, writer, and educator currently employed by Macrae-Gibson Architects. He is a frequent contributor to e-Oculus, and can be reached at

Event: 2013 AIA Convention: Keynote Presentation #1: Conscious Capitalism and the Future of Business
Location: Colorado Convention Center, Denver, 06.20.13
Speakers: Blake Mycoskie, Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, TOMS; Mickey Jacob, FAIA, 2013 President of the American Institute of Architects; Robert Ivy, FAIA, CEO, American Institute of Architects; Tod Williams, FAIA, and Billie Tsien, AIA, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects