Toms Glasses: The Newest Buy-One-Give-One Product From Toms Shoes

The shoe company wants to take its model for tying consumption to helping the developing world far beyond just canvas footwear. First up: these $135 hand-painted sunglasses.

Tom's sunglasses

Toms Shoes—the canvas shoe company that pioneered the "buy one, give one" model now copied by nearly everyone—is debuting a brand new "one for one" idea called Toms Glasses. Buy one pair and people in the developing world, who have just as bad vision as we do but little access to ophthalmologists, will get free glasses, medical treatment or surgery.

Could it mean a change of title for founder Blake Mycoskie, Toms's Chief Shoe Giver? (We kid.) Mycoskie says that his travels in the developing world revealed a new problem: "What we've seen with our shoes is that they really help people with two basic needs: education and being able to work and have a livelihood." Improving sight has the same affect. Children who can't see in school can't learn; older workers who lose their vision can't work. And it's a large problem. There are 284 million people around the world who are visually impaired, and 39 million who are blind.

"As I traveled around the world, I started to see more people who were visually impaired or blind living these desolate experiences. As I started asking question about what they needed, it was so simple. They either needed glasses, cataract surgery, or medical treatment." Thus was born Toms eyewear.

Blake MycoskieThe glasses themselves—which start at $135—come in three styles and feature three hand-painted stripes that are supposed to represent you, the person you're helping, and Toms connecting you. The company, which gave away a million shoes last year, is launching its eye care programs in Nepal, Tibet, and Cambodia (where Pol Pot targeted people who wore glasses). It's working with what it calls a "Sight Giving Partner," the Seva Foundation, which will administer the actual eye programs. Mycoskie says it's a helpful step for him to be less involved than in his shoe-giving past: "I've been there when they got surgery... and I've handed out the glasses. But as Toms grows, it has to be less about 'What's Blake's most intimate, joyful experience?' and more about 'What's the great need?'"

And that's the key to the new "one-for-one" company model: solving the great needs through Western consumption. Shoes, and now glasses, are just the beginning. It wants to be the company that embodies every aspect of consumption that also results in help for the developing world. Once they get the glasses right, expect to see many more products from the company. "I want people to know that they're giving, in a one-for-one way, with every purchase."

And what does Mycoskie think about Warby Parker, a company that's been around since 2010—as Toms was preparing to launch—and also gives glasses away? "I was super excited. I can't solve [this problem]. They can't solve it. It has to be a collective effort. I stand up on stages all across America telling people to start a business that gives back. And they listened to that, and they did it. It was hard, though, because I couldn't congratulate them."

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Morgan Clendaniel can be reached by email or on Twitter.

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  • Reuben Goldstein

    It is fantastic to see TOMS branching out; vision
    is a very important issue that we at MoralEyes feel very strongly about. It is
    an issue that affects 250 million people worldwide and while TOMS is making an
    important move towards tackling this issue, they cannot do it alone. MoralEyes
    is a wholesale/retail reading glasses company, for every pair of our glasses
    that is purchased we donate a pair to “New Eyes for the Needy” a nonprofit
    charity based in Short Hills, NJ. TOMS has recognized our involvement, and they
    are very excited to be working alongside us. We’ve only been selling to the public
    for a few months now and have already donated thousands of glasses. With over
    4,000,000 pairs of glasses thrown away each year we are asking people to please
    recycle your glasses and you can do that by mailing them to New Eyes for the
    Needy. Our glasses are being sold in stores nationwide, and are also available
    on Amazon and our website, and our glasses retail between $19.99-24.99.

  • Ai

    Oh Sorry... Stakeholders.  No Axes here.  Just know so many in the industry and internally in the offices.  Even their China factories - where we have relations.

  • howard

    Ai doesn't know what he's talking about.  TOMS doesn't have "shareholders" -- it's a private company.  And they're not "behind" on anything.  Sounds like he's got an agenda or an axe to grind.

  • Ai

    I think this is a noble concept.  I am confused about TOMS getting into the optics world.  It's no secret that they are 100,000's (if not a million) BEHIND on producing and delivering their shoes to under served communities the globe over - which was promised to their consumers and shareholders.  TOMS has lost my support. A real shame here isn't the optics.


    @Ian another company involved in the mission is 4sight Sunglasses out of San Francisco. Hopefully, together these three groups can cause a lot of significant change!!

  • Ian Vadas

    I'm sure Warby Parker is not that thrilled about the news but that's business for you. I think they'll be ok. Their glasses are funkier and cheaper at $99 instead of $135.  

    The great thing now is that the problem will get solved that much quicker. And since it is a problem that actually is solvable I'm wondering what happens once these problems get fixed or get down to levels where the numbers don't have as much of an impact on consumers and the problems are not an epidemic anymore? What happens then? There of course will always be a need for help somewhere but is there an exit strategy? 

    Some non-profits such as Malaria-No More are planning on closing down in the near future because their job is done. They accomplished what they set out to do.

    What will happen if TOMS and Warby Parker solve this problem. Will they say "mission accomplished" and close their eyewear lines?.