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Toms Shoes takes next step

Company takes its popular one-for-one charity business model to eyewear.

Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie (Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty)

This week, company founder Blake Mycoskie announced that the popular California-based Toms Shoes brand will be taking its talents to eyewear. So now, in addition to supplying shoes to needy kids around the world, Toms will be helping people in developing countries with their eyesight.

If you don’t know the Toms business model, for every pair of shoes sold the company gives a pair of shoes to a child in need, primarily in the U.S., Argentina, South Africa and Ethiopia. Now they’ll be applying that same concept to eye care, selling stylish sunglasses in order to give prescription eyeglasses and sight-saving medical treatment to people in need. These efforts will be done with the Seva Foundation, starting in Nepal, Tibet and Cambodia.

The glasses they’re selling range from $135 to $145 with a few different styles. Two basically look like Ray-Ban aviators or Wayfarers, except with colourful hand-painted stripes on the arms, while the third option for women has more of a Jackie O vibe. They aren’t the first company to sell shades for charity (Warby Parker launched in 2010) but in its short 5-year existence, Toms has built a near bullet-proof brand.

As branding stories go, it’s tough to beat Toms. Could you even make it up? It’s enough to make any cynic nauseous optimistic. Shaggy-haired everyman goes on reality TV, gets inspired, develops charitable business model just as consumer appetite for brands doing good hits a huge upswing, becomes a leader in social entrepreneurship and — voila! — next thing you know he’s hanging with Bill Clinton and Desmond Tutu, selling a boatload of shoes.

Mycoskie and his sister were contestants on The Amazing Race in 2002, then took vacations back in some of the destinations. In Argentina, he came up with the idea of selling the local-style canvas shoes as a brand to help needy kids in that country get proper footwear. Started in 2006 with $500, so far Toms has given away more than 1-million pairs of shoes and is available in more than 500 stores internationally.

At the launch event Tuesday, Mycoskie said the new shades will be available everywhere Toms shoes are sold. No word yet on possible marketing campaigns, but something tells me “A Day Without Glasses” will be a little bit tougher to pull off.