How to Start An Meaningful Career At TOMS Shoes
If you haven’t heard of TOMS Shoes, you must be living under a rock. I remember in the mid-2000s when TOMS Shoes first burst onto the scene, suddenly all the kids at school were wearing them.
Even more interesting was TOMS Shoes’ One for One® business model that matched every pair of shoes sold with a pair of new shoes for a child in need. They have since expanded the model to also give sight, water, safe birth, and bullying prevention services to people in need.
Realchangers was invited to the TOMS Shoes headquarters in Los Angeles, where we met with Breann Lange, their Human Resource Coordinator. Breann first gave us a tour of the two-story building. From the outdoor space with picnic tables, safari tents and the “One for One” slogan painted on the side of the building to inside, which looked like a hybrid of hip coffee shop meets TOMS Shoes retail store meets workspace meets playground (complete with a slide).
The TOMS Shoes company culture was apparent throughout the whole space. Rooms were named after places that the company gives back to, and there was inspiration everywhere.
After the tour, we sat outside at one of the picnic tables and chatted about Breann’s journey to her position at TOMS Shoes.
TOMS Shoes is one of the most well known impact-driven company that we know of.
It’s so crazy how the One for One® model is so huge now, where you see it everywhere. We were listening to Blake Mycoskie,
the founder of TOMS Shoes, speak not too long ago and he was so in awe of how prevalent his business model is now. We have changed the traditional business model so much that a lot of companies are being more conscious. Blake was really proud but also blown away, because TOMS Shoes was pretty much the first.
How did you get to where you are now in terms of your career?
I originally wanted to be in the medical field and then shifted into physical therapy. I was a physical therapy assistant in Oregon and was going to continue in that direction. I had already applied to PT school and was just waiting to hear back, so I had already committed to working with the physical therapy clinic for a while.
But an opportunity came when my friends, Ann and Jessica, had the idea of Enrou, a marketplace for consumers to buy from socially conscious fashion and lifestyle brands that work in community development around the globe. I wanted to help them however I could because they’re my friends and I wanted them to be successful. I wasn’t ever thinking, oh I’m gonna switch up my life completely. But once I was helping Enrou with their social media, marketing, events, and the fact that they were also a mission-driven company, I thought, wow, this is so great. It was just so rewarding to being part of a social impact company that, as soon as the opportunity arose with them, I quit my job and moved in with them, which was scary. It was so stressful too…We were all friends and we’re all working together in the same house and not getting paid enough and staying up until 4 in the morning falling asleep on our laptops. It was rough but it was definitely an experience.
Last year was pretty rough because in between Enrou and TOMS Shoes was a rollercoaster. I worked in a recruiting and office manager role at this company called The Giving Keys for a while and I loved it there. Their social impact was creating employment opportunities for people to transition out of homelessness. Working there was this really cool environment where you had these hipsters who were trying to change the world and you had the production team, who were all pretty much homeless at one point so they were transitioning out of homelessness, which was the give back for the company. So obviously there were a lot of different personalities on the team and it was really interesting and I loved it. Unfortunately, I got laid off so I was super sad about that.
How did you realize that HR and recruiting was the field for you?
When I was at Enrou, I did a lot of different roles and wore a lot of hats, but I never really felt that any of the positions were my passion. I could do them and I did them well, but it didn’t feel like I fit into the business yet. It didn’t feel comfortable or something I loved, but I was doing it because I resonated with Enrou’s mission. As Enrou continued to grow and there became a need for somebody in an HR/recruiting/company culture type of role, I just naturally gravitated towards it. After that, I was like, this is it! Even if Enrou doesn’t work out, this is the role that I am going to be in. From there, I had a lot of office management, recruiting, and HR type roles, including at The Giving Keys. Now I’m here at TOMS Shoes in HR. And TOMS is really great too because I’m in an HR position, but long-term, I think I want to be in a recruiting role.
So you’ve had experience working for impact-driven companies and non-impact-driven ones. What would you say is the biggest difference or pros/cons?
One company I worked for after getting laid off was expanding to the US from Korea, so I was one of their first hires. I was building out their team here in the US but they had a huge company in Korea. So it was a little strange because they were considered a startup here in the US but not in Korea. That company was culturally very different than Enrou and what I was used to. I also worked with a probiotics company, and the company culture there was so terrible! We were overworked, understaffed. It was a toxic environment where I hated to go to work every day. I shut down at work too…I didn’t want to talk to anybody because I just couldn’t relate to these people. I feel like that was the main difference between the places I worked at that wasn’t social impact-driven.
In my experience, the people at Enrou, here at TOMS Shoes, and The Giving Keys, were all aligned by this common denominator that we were all here for the mission. It sets the bar higher in how the company treats people and how they’re taking the time to put on cultural events that make you want to come to work or feel valued. That was really huge for me and I’ve already seen that here at TOMS Shoes, with their ping pong tournament and celebrating International Women’s Day. We did multiple pride events here and they brought in panellists to talk about pride and we made homeless kits. We also had a barbeque 2 weeks ago to celebrate hitting our projected numbers. All the executives came out and were flipping hamburgers and hot dogs, and brought kegs out and we were all just having a nice lunch. I felt so grateful that I’m in this community and environment.
So I would definitely recommend working for a social impact company. However, I have gotten taken advantage of before in the non-impact driven companies because I feel like I’ve spent so much time in the social impact world where I just trust everybody. Life is not a bubble, and I’ve been living in this bubble where everybody is really genuine and trusting.
What advice do you have for someone trying to change their career or wanting to work in the impact-driven space?
Not being afraid to reach out to mentors and advisors in the field, and saying, this is what I’m trying to do, how can I learn from you? How can I get to a position that you’re in eventually? I feel that people are so receptive to that.
With Enrou, we worked right next door to TOMS Shoes, and I cold emailed the culture guy in HR at TOMS Shoes at the time named Ryan. I basically wrote, “Hey, I’m right next door, we have a social impact company and these are the challenges I’m seeing in my role, I’d love to learn from you.” And he said”Come on over!” He gave me a tour and I met up with him a few times a year to ask him questions that I had and it was a nice relationship. That ended up helping me because his wife worked at The Giving Keys and he referred me to them. But after I got laid off from The Giving Keys, Ryan’s wife referred me back to TOMS Shoes because he wasn’t working there anymore. So it came full circle.
A lot of times people get too scared to ask questions or to admit that they don’t know anything, especially with the whole “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra. Admitting that you don’t know something is way better because people become more receptive to helping you. So I would definitely recommend that. If there is anybody in a potential future role that you would like to work in, you should totally reach out. I know it can be scary after working so hard in one field but you just have to commit and rip the band-aid off.
And if you don’t know anyone outright, you’re bound to know somebody who knows somebody.