Protests continue around the country and world three weeks after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. This new instance of police violence caught on video has boosted public support for Black Lives Matter while driving policy changes from governments, police departments and companies.
Toms is used to building strategies around public good. “We’re incredibly proud to have inspired many, many companies to be purpose-driven,” Amy Smith, the company’s chief giving officer, said on the Glossy Podcast.
The original, core initiative behind the company — to donate a pair of shoes to those in need for every pair purchased — isn’t exactly adjacent to the public challenges facing America today. But the shoe company is among dozens of beauty and fashion brands that have donated to Black Lives Matter, and it plans on contributing another $100,000 in the next three months.
Beyond that, Toms is looking at its own practices. “We’re taking the time now to do a full assessment of what our business and employment practices are, so we can create a baseline and share with our customers, very transparently: ‘What is a plan for change for Toms?'”
Toms anticipates it will cross the 100 million pairs donated mark sometime this year, according to Smith, and since 2018 it has also funded grants for socially-inclined nonprofits. The company also now donates a third of its net profits.
Last December, Toms agreed to a takeover from its creditors led by Jefferies Financial Group Inc., Nexus Capital Management LP and Brookfield Asset Management Inc., in exchange for restructuring its debt.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Donating to BLM
“We immediately gave a donation to Black Lives Matter. And that was really just in solidarity. That was really just a moment of, ‘We believe Black Lives Matter at Toms, and so we want to make this contribution.’ We’re also in the process of talking to our Black-led giving partners to make an additional $100,000 donation to some of the work they’re doing. They’re working on the frontlines of racial inequality every single day. We’ve met many of them through our gun violence work that we started back in 2018. They’ve been incredible partners. We want to give them the time and space that they need for their own personal wellbeing, and for us to help however we can as soon as we can. It’s tough. We made this commitment to Covid-19. Business is tough right now, especially when you’re in the retail space. So we want to do things that are meaningful, but I’m also very committed to that, when we make a commitment, we keep it.”
How Toms is looking inward, too
“We’re taking the time now to do a full assessment of what our business and employment practices are, so we can create a baseline and share with our customers, very transparently: ‘What is a plan for change for Toms?’ And: ‘How are we going to go about addressing some of the things we know we need to address?’ That’s the immediate plan. Step one is looking at how we do it today. Where are we posting our job opportunities? What does the interview process look like? How do we engage with people from an interview standpoint, and what sorts of questions are we asking? We have a very robust process and we’re very committed to diversity, but when we speak specifically about Black employees, we want to really make sure we have the right process in place. One small example is, do we take the obligation around higher education off our postings, just to understand people come with so many skills that maybe are not the ‘traditional’ path? That’s just one of several examples we’re exploring right now.”
Providing free crisis telecounseling
“I think we’ve all felt some level of anxiety, some level of isolation. We’ve partnered with an organization called Crisis Text Line here in the United States, so anyone, anywhere, anytime can text ‘Toms’ to 741-741 and get a crisis counselor online — free, confidential, 24/7 — to help them go from a hot moment where they’re feeling a lot of anxiety to a cooler moment where they can make a better decision. We’ve offered that to all of our employees, to our customers. And we’ve put that on our website and our social.”
Note: This interview was recorded before the Crisis Text Line’s board of directors voted to terminate its CEO due to concerns about “inappropriate conduct of individuals in leadership positions,” according to a letter from the board sent to staffers. A spokesperson for Toms wrote in an email to Glossy that Toms “has since paused current funding as they evaluate Crisis Text Line’s action plan and next steps, which will inform the status of an ongoing partnership.”