What’s giving in the digital age? Take a virtual reality trip with TOMS shoes

By Kitty Knowles 27 April 2016
TOMS shoes in-store VR experience.

The Memo asks TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie what giving means in the digital age.

2006 was the year that Facebook first went off-campus, leaving its student-only policy behind. It was also the year that YouTube launched, introducing funny cat clips into our lives.

A lot has changed in the past decade, and so has the notion of charity: the way we give our money, time and effort.

Many people still (wrongly) feel that social media, or emerging platforms like virtual reality are inherently inward. That these only serve to ‘cut us off’ from the real world outside.

But today technology plays a vital role in uniting communities, growing charitable businesses, and inspiring change.

This year TOMS, the ethical shoe company – known for giving away a pair of shoes for every pair sold – is celebrating its own ’10 Years of Giving’.

Not only has being “a child of social media” been integral to the success of the businesses, but the company is keeps up with cutting edge technology.

With virtual reality experiences in hundreds of stores around the world, TOMS truly understands giving in the digital age.

We caught up with TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie to find out about TOMS digital journey, and what giving means today…

Blake Mycoskie giving out TOMS shoes in Peru.
Blake Mycoskie giving out TOMS shoes in Peru.

Kitty Knowles: What does ’10 Years of Giving’ mean to you?

Blake Mycoskie: Celebrating a milestone like 10 years is a relief, but when I look back I’m most proud of that impact we’ve had on the culture of business.

When I started TOMS it was a radical idea: Why would a business give?

Now people take this for granted because today so many businesses are incorporating giving.

Met the lovely @blakemycoskie today. Who knew @toms liked #VR? ???

A photo posted by Kitty Knowles ( on

How has digital been crucial for the growth of TOMS?

Facebook went off-campus in 2006 – the same year we started TOMS – and YouTube started the same year as well.

We were a child of social media and that’s whats allowed us to spread our story so fast.

We’re really a global company now, but it’s hard to act global and think about what’s going on in Latin America or Asia when your main headquarters are in California.

If we were to start TOMS 20 years ago without the digital assets we have now, it would have been very hard to get our story out there.

TOMS shoes in-store VR experience.
TOMS shoes in-store VR experience.

What technology is helping you to give more today?

One of the biggest ways we’re bringing people in is virtual reality.

We made an amazing VR short film on one of our giving trips that’s now in over 100 stores around the world. You get to see the children we’re serving, you get to go into their homes and understand the conditions they live in.

You get to see the joy on the kids faces and understand why a pair of shoes are so important.

That experience inspires empathy, but it also helps customers to feel empowered that their purchase is really making a difference in someone’s life.

If we can take a customer and really give them an immersive experience in giving they’re more likely to be a repeat customer. Hopefully it will also help to make them curious to go volunteer, or do a mission trip, because they see that it’s not as scary as maybe they thought.

Who else do you think is using digital in an inspiring way?

There are lots of digital companies we’re supporting through the TOMS Social Entrepreneurship Fund.

Outside of that we’ve also met cool companies that use apps to link up local volunteer opportunities.

A lot of people have a desire to give back, but they don’t want to waste their time.

One company, called DoSomething, uses location-based technology to match you with both the types of people you’d want to volunteer with, and with a local organisation.

Not only is the experience of volunteering a gratifying thing to do, but once you’ve had a personal experience with an organisation you often want help more, and give money.

TOMS shoes in-store VR experience.
TOMS shoes in-store VR experience.

For you, what’s been the biggest impact of TOMS’ giving?

We recently did a study with Mission Measurement and they were able to provide a real analysis of our impact on culture, on business; It’s not just the kids we give shoes to, it’s the jobs we help create, it’s the people that we inspire to start their own businesses.

But despite all this, one of the things I find most inspiring is the impact psychologically we have on children when they get a new pair of shoes.

We give shoes primarily for practical reasons, but often these are the first new thing they’ve been given – their clothes are hand-me-downs, their pens and books belonged to a student before them.

When they get something new and they unwrap it, they feel valuable in a way that maybe they just haven’t before.

Read more: TOMS’ Blake Mycoskie is using his millions to build a band of benevolent businesses

Read more: How to Boss It Like… Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes