Texas native Blake Mycoskie is a man on a mission. The founder of California-based TOMS, the innovative company that shot to success by giving a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair sold, spent two years scouting for the perfect location for a standalone Austin store. He finally found it.
The new TOMS store, only the company’s second free-standing outpost (the first is in Venice, California), opens March 11 in a renovated Victorian house “with a lot of history to it” at 1401 S. Congress Ave.
“We are trying to create a real space for the community,” Mycoskie says. “I don’t like to even call it a store. It’s more of a community space, a cafe, a meeting place for people who are inspired by what we are doing and doing other great things themselves.” Babies and dogs are welcome too, he adds.
“We are trying to create a real space for the community,” Blake Mycoskie says. “I don’t like to even call it a store.”
Only half of the 2,400-square-foot property will be devoted to retail; the other half will be for hanging out, with a lot of indoor and outdoor seating and a tree house in the back for private meetings or for customers just looking for some quiet time.
One for one
Mycoskie grew up in Arlington, graduated from St. Stephens Episcopal School in Austin and spent two years at SMU before dropping out to start his first business. He founded TOMS in 2006 after a trip to Argentina. He volunteered with a local nonprofit to deliver used shoes to needy children, which inspired the idea to sell an updated version of the alpargata (a shoe made of canvas or cotton, with a sole of rope or rubber material) and donate shoes in a “one for one” business model.
Since then TOMS has donated more than 10 million shoes around the world. Mycoskie has also expanded the product line with a popular series of brogues and other manly styles, as well as limited edition collections to benefit Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative and Charlize Theron’s Africa Outreach Project.
For spring, the privately held company collaborated with home furnishings designer Jonathan Adler on a collection of colorful unisex styles.
In 2011, Mycoskie launched TOMS Eyewear; for every pair of glasses sold, people in need receive prescription glasses, sight-saving surgery or medical treatment. The Austin store will feature an array of glasses for sale in addition to shoes.
Mycoskie’s Texas ties run deep. He decided to take a sabbatical in 2012, so he gave up day-to-day control of the business and moved to Austin. He got married and enjoyed the good life.
“I spent a lot of time at the lake and playing golf and hanging out with friends and not working so much,” he says. “But I recognized that while all those things are good, they’re good in small doses for me. I need to be actively working in building something.”
Mycoskie plans to open more standalone stores, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, which he says are some of the best markets for TOMS products.
He and his wife began commuting to Los Angeles last summer and moved there permanently in November, so he could be close to the business, although he says they make regular visits to Austin, and he’s excited to have a place to hang out when the store opens.
On his next trip to Austin for SXSW Interactive, the 37-year-old entrepreneur plans to reveal TOMS’ latest top-secret endeavor (at exactly 3 pm on March 11). He is tightlipped about the new product, referring a questioner to the company’s Instagram and Twitter pages, where a campaign called #Onedecision is underway.
“We’re saying that with this new product, we are going to be asking people to change one decision they have made in their life,” he says. “By changing this one decision, which can seem like a simple decision, it can have a big impact on people.
“It’s a little bit different from what we’ve done in the past. There’s a lot of speculation about what decision we’re asking people to change will be ... [but] I think it has the most impact in the fastest amount of time. And I think a lot more people will participate in this than even our shoes or eyewear.”
Mycoskie plans to aggressively open more standalone stores across the country, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, which he says are some of the best markets for TOMS products. But he won’t do it without finding the right locations, just as he did in Austin.
“It’s more about having the perfect space. I’m not going to rush it,” he says, adding that he welcomes suggestions for the perfect location for a community-based TOMS store in those cities.