Good On the Ground: A Q&A with Amy Smith of TOMS | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

Good On the Ground: A Q&A with Amy Smith of TOMS

July 12, 2021

By Mike Kaufman


As the original one-for-one company, TOMS created a new way of doing business — merging profit with purpose while inspiring customers to be part of the giving experience. TOMS has evolved their impact model but continues to remain grounded in their mission of using business to improve lives. Today, the brand commits one third of its profits to grassroots good.

Amy Smith, chief strategy and impact officer at TOMS, spoke at the 2021 ANA Brand Masters: Inspirational Branding Conference about how TOMS is again pioneering the future of giving and how it plans to inspire the next generation to create good on the ground. The ANA spoke with Smith in advance of her presentation at the conference.


Q. TOMS has been so consistent and steadfast in its mission to inspire society toward a greater good. What would be some of the biggest lessons that other brands can learn from TOMS regarding your approach?

At TOMS we are constantly challenging ourselves to do better, not only for our customers but for the communities they live in. Our mission has always been to use business to improve lives. This year, we announced that we have updated our impact model to no longer give shoes. Today, we commit one third of our profits to grassroots good, supporting people working to build a more equitable world. We believe in a future where all people have a chance to thrive, so our support is focused on boosting mental health, increasing access to opportunity, and ending gun violence — all elements we know to be essential for progress to take root.

While this has been a bold, and if I’m honest, kind of scary, decision, we have learned that as long as we do the work to build a strong, well thought out, impact strategy that is authentic to TOMS that we will continue to create impact. This is easier said than but even in the challenging moments, we remain collectively committed to our mission and that focus is what makes meaningful impact possible.


Q. How does your mission and inspiration manifest itself within your own corporate culture and with your employees?

Many employees at TOMS are drawn to this company because of the impact. We all know we’re working toward a greater good and that helps keep us inspired and focused. There are many opportunities for our employees to engage with the impact — whether that be through our giving experiences, volunteer opportunities, or further learning from partners and experts — we make sure our employees are connected and involved no matter what their role is in the company.

Historically we have created giving trips where groups of employees have the opportunity to experience our giving firsthand either here in the U.S. or across the globe. On these trips, our employees get to observe, learn about and engage with the various organizations TOMS supports, and better understand those we serve so that we can better understand our impact. It is incredibly inspiring.

While we had to adapt our giving trips last year, we continued to offer virtual and in-person (where safe) volunteer opportunities as well as days of further education. The fact that our employees are genuinely excited in participating in these experiences speaks volumes about the culture here.


Q. TOMS has been inspiring consumers and other brands for a long time. How do you continually refine and drive your internal and external inspirational branding?

In tandem with the evolution of our long-standing impact model, we recognized the need to refine the brand’s expression with a complete creative overhaul, while staying true to our roots. These bold and energetic creative changes pay homage to those creating meaningful change in the world, mirroring the grassroots organizations we support and the socially conscious consumers that are part of the TOMS community.

For example, new campaigns such as the Mallow, the first ever reimagining of the original Alpargata we launched with 15 years ago, includes vibrant visual assets that reinforce TOMS as a shoe that stands up for people making an impact on the ground, while still featuring elements of the classic TOMS Alpargata.

Bringing together this new impact model, fresh brand creative and new product has been incredibly exciting for the TOMS team and inspiring the next generation of Rebel Optimists.


Q. Inspiration often requires innovation and creativity. In what ways does TOMS attempt to foster creativity in the workplace?

Because TOMS has been reflecting on everything we have learned over the past 14 years, we recognize that the world has changed and the consumer has evolved. We foster creativity through all aspects of our work, ranging from creating new iterations of our iconic shoe to updating our giving model. We’re also a very collaborative organization. We work very cross-functionally so we’re involved with and know what other teams are working on. This often sparks new ideas across product, marketing and our impact work. Luckily, we’ve been able to keep this up while we’ve been working remotely thanks to technology, however we do miss our run-ins at the coffee bar or at the slide at HQ. When we were in the office together, we’d host fun events like paint classes, Halloween costume competitions, or salsa dancing lessons led by employees, all good ways to spark creativity.


Q. In what ways have your impact model grown and evolved as you’ve been able to maintain relevancy?

After diligent research and evaluation of our giving over the past few years, talking with current and new customers, engaging our impact partners and to be honest a bit of sole searching, TOMS made the decision to evolve its impact strategy this past April, with a new commitment to give at least one-third of annual net profits to grassroots good. Today more than ever before, young consumers are looking to brands to be transparent in their giving and stance on social issues. TOMS was a pioneer in this respect when the One for One model was launched in 2006. 15 years later we’ve recognized that times have changed and so should the way we give back. I believe we should always be asking ourselves the question, are we doing the most good we can with the giving we are able to do. Challenging ourselves with that question and doing the work to get to the answer will drive good decision making and ensure relevance in the market.


Q. How have you leveraged partnerships or aligned with other brands?

Giving to Grassroots Good means TOMS is creating two-way partnerships with all of our Giving partners. We don’t just offer a monetary grant and wish them well, we engage deeply, asking questions and listening to see what they may need to deliver on a specific goal, and then determine where we can be helpful. These two-way partnerships are about working to build long standing relationships that are meaningful, identifying ways we can learn from or volunteer with our partners beyond the traditional monetary donation. Creating equity in the world is hard work and we want to be there with and for our partners along the way.

This year, we are also beginning to work with other brands that are focused on social impact. Aligning with other like-minded brands allows us to create even greater impact and create some really special offerings for our customers. Together we’re able to reach a wider audience and build more awareness around an issue we each care deeply about.


Q. How do you view other brands that have modeled themselves after your success?

Here at TOMS, we can only hope that other brands will look to the way we have combined profit and purpose for inspiration and strive to have the same passion and vision for doing good while still creating a quality product consumers can enjoy. I’m inspired to see so many companies think about their purpose in terms of shareholders and stakeholder. After all, our goal is to make meaningful change in the world, and that is something we cannot do alone.

You must be logged in to submit a comment.