5 Questions for Blake Mycoskie

It’s been a year of major change for Blake Mycoskie.

His company sold a 50 percent stake to Bain Capital LLC in a deal that officially closed late last month. And Toms is set to launch another one-for-one model this spring, focused on bags. Plus, Mycoskie continues to evolve the brand’s shoe selection with new categories, such as wedges and boots.

With all that on deck, it’s time for a retail push, too. Two stores will open by the end of the year — in Portland, Ore., and Chicago — with a third debuting in New York in the first quarter of 2015. The shops will offer the entire product range, including shoes, eyewear, bags and a Toms Roasting Co. café.

“The goal is to open three to four more locations by the end of 2015,” said the founder of the 8-year-old firm. “We have more product, and eyewear is great for retail. Our strategy is to focus on neighborhoods and community spaces.”

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The debut bag collection consists of duffels, cross-body purses and tablet cases, retailing for $28 to $228, and takes on the issue of infant mortality in developing countries. “With each bag we sell, we give away a safe-birth kit [to expectant mothers],” Mycoskie said. “We are saving lives by [building] a deeper connection to our female customers.”

When asked about Toms’ next steps, the often guarded Mycoskie remained enigmatic. “Bags is our big launch for 2015, but maybe something [will debut] for 2016,” he hinted. “I don’t know what it’s going to be — and I’m not just saying that.”

Here, the brand leader does open up about product evolution, the coffee business and why he’s banking on Bain Capital.

You’re vastly expanding Toms’ footwear selection for spring ’15. Why now?
BM: We started globally, with one silhouette. [Back then], 100 percent of our business was the Alpargatas; now, it’s 68 percent. We built new franchises, like our wedge, which is selling in top department stores. Women are buying more fashion from Toms, so there are a lot of growth opportunities going into spring ’15. The men’s business is starting to take off — we’ve always had about 10 percent to 12 percent men’s product. Our brogue and lace-up category and chukka boot [allow] us to see a lot of new accounts. We are doing a fashion sneaker. The customer knows and expects all of these things from us, so we’re playing a little more into trends. And we are really seeing volume.

How do you handle competitors and copycats?
BM: We focus on our own mission. The footwear industry is historically known for knocking off, which is unfortunate. Legally, there is nothing I can do about it, so we focus on our business. Competitors will do what they do. It’s just a fact of life.

The coffee venture seems like a big departure from your fashion projects. Could other non-fashion items be on the horizon for Toms?
BM: Our focus is on what we can do to make an impact on the world. We think about categories in all the places [in need] where we give our shoes. It helps us leverage relationships in the countries where we work. We use this as the cornerstone of our retail strategy, as we are in all Whole Foods in America. It’s a $12 bag of coffee, so the specialty item further elevates our brand. It’s been a fun and disruptive thing to do, but our core focus will still be shoes, bags and eyewear. We have so much momentum in footwear that we don’t want to take our eyes off the prize.

What has changed since selling half of Toms to Bain Capital?
BM: We just closed the deal [this month], and they are really bringing an understanding about our footwear customer. They have a lot of experience and are helping us to be the best in class. Bain helps us with a lot of resources, with our distribution strategy, and they are helping in the process of our CEO search, to grow as I continue to be the founder and chief visionary.

Will there be any adjustments to your role moving forward?
BM: My role will stay the same. Also, both Bain and I are creating funds to support social entrepreneurship. Toms is donating half of the [profits from the Bain sale], and we’re in the process of deciding on a foundation to contribute to.

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