The CMO of TOMS: Helping Change 100 Million Lives While Elevating an Iconic Brand

The CMO of TOMS: Helping Change 100 Million Lives While Elevating an Iconic Brand

TOMS doesn’t just make shoes. This iconic brand also makes a difference, changing 100 million lives by donating one-third of its profits to vital causes. How does a purpose-driven brand like TOMS further its mission while also keeping its product relevant—and turning a profit? How does a socially responsible company navigate ever-changing trends like influencer marketing while boosting customer retention during a chaotic, unpredictable era?

In this episode of CleverTap Engage—our podcast and video interview series spotlighting marketing leaders who are achieving meaningful and memorable customer engagement—co-hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier turn to Ian Stewart, the CMO and chief digital officer of TOMS, for the answers.

Stewart is a skilled retention marketer, brand strategist, funnel designer, and influencer marketing expert. Prior to TOMS, he led marketing teams at youth-driven brands like MTV, Coke, UGG, and Converse. He has much to tell us about selling via purpose, using influencer marketing in a totally new way, running separate funnels for different customer segments, reinventing a brand, and boosting retention in tough times.

Redefining a Purpose-Driven Brand

By the time Ian Stewart joined TOMS in 2019, the brand’s pioneering One for One platform—you buy one pair of shoes, the company donates a pair—had run its course, and was being emulated by brands everywhere. TOMS needed a new way to deliver on its social mission. 

Stewart says that the new leadership team began “thinking about what we would do if we were a startup today, being purpose-led. What would that giving model be? What social issues would we get behind? We started with a clean piece of paper, and we ended up with [donating] one-third of profits. The more we sell, the more we give. Very transparent.”

Retaining Loyal Customers While Acquiring New Ones

Beyond reinventing what it means to be a purpose-driven company, TOMS also faced the challenge of how to retain its most loyal customers—women who started with the brand in their early 20s and were now in their 40s—while appealing to younger Millennials and Gen Z consumers. 

For Stewart, that meant dual sales funnels: one built to retain brand loyalists around the classic TOMS Alpargata shoe, and one built to attract and retain younger consumers around a new, more youthful line of shoes. 

As the brand seeks to shift its target audience from age-40-plus to age-20-plus, Stewart understands that these two funnels will ultimately need to be united, which will result in some customer attrition. “We have to be ready to lose some as we gain. That’s okay,” he says. “At the same time, we’re looking for the middle ground with fashionability and social impact that should be appealing to anybody in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.”

Rethinking Influencer Marketing and Brand Partnerships

Marketing a purpose-driven brand also means looking at tactics like influencer marketing and cross-brand collaborations through a completely different lens. “Instead of just buying a suite of influencers from an agency to help your product, which is not the TOMS way, we’ve had to hand-select influencers who have recognized authority and awareness in the spaces that are important to us [like] mental health and access to opportunity, particularly in certain marginalized communities,” says Stewart. 

In terms of collaborations, Stewart looks for other fashion brands with “shared purpose, values, and visions” to amplify social impact. Any new product release that comes from these partnerships “is simply the thing that proves we did it.”

To hear the full scope of Ian Stewart’s wisdom on purpose-driven brands, influencers, retention, and more, listen to the entire episode.

 

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

John Koetsier

How do you reinvent a brand that has impacted 100 million lives for good? Hello and welcome to “Retention Masterclass.” Yes, we know this was “CleverTap Engage,” but we’re shaking it up a little bit. My name is John Koetsier.

Peggy Anne Salz

And my name is Peggy Anne Salz. We’re not just shaking it up. We’re going to talk about a really interesting topic, John, because we’re talking about mission and margin. How do you combine both? How do you build a business, a brand, and fulfill global purpose all at the same time? We have someone who’s done it.

John Koetsier

We do. Today, we’re specifically chatting about reinventing a global brand that has a super-deep purpose at its core. Also, how do you do that while running a business, acquiring, retaining customers at different levels, and using the technology of marketing in sometimes surprising ways? So, who are we chatting with, Peggy?

Peggy Anne Salz

Well, John, today, we’re chatting with Ian Stewart. He’s CMO and CTO at TOMS, the iconic shoe company that commits one-third of its profits to good causes. He’s also led marketing teams at some pretty amazing companies that also are iconic in their own way — MTV, Coke, Converse — and leading the transformation at TOMS that we’re discussing today. So great to have you. Welcome, Ian, to the show.

Ian Stewart

Thank you, Peggy. Thank you, John. Welcome to my spare bedroom in Santa Barbara, California. Nice to meet you.

Peggy Anne Salz

Love it.

John Koetsier

We have talked to many CEOs and CMOs who are in spare bedrooms in various places around the world over the last two years. That’s no different. And, you know what? Santa Barbara’s kind of a nice place to have a spare bedroom, so, hey, not so bad. Not so bad.

Ian Stewart

Yeah.

John Koetsier

Ian, let’s start here. Peggy mentioned that you’ve worked for, led marketing and branding at iconic companies. TOMS is also an iconic brand. You’ve gone through a pretty significant odyssey as a company over the last few years. Talk us through some of that journey.

Ian Stewart

Yeah, for sure. As you said, I’ve been fortunate enough in my 30-year marketing career to pretty much only work for iconic brands, from Coke, to MTV, to Converse, to the reinvention and turnaround of the UGG brand, and now TOMS. I think one of the things about coming to this job a year-and-a-half ago was appreciating what makes a brand an icon, what makes a brand famous, and well-known, and the thing that people buy. 

TOMS is an iconic brand. It’s famous for its slip-on Alpargata shoe, which we’ll talk about, I’m sure, over the course of this conversation — how we’ve modernized that and also respected it. But it’s also at its core known for being a purpose-led brand, a brand that pretty much invented the giving model, the “One for One,” buy one, we give a pair of shoes. But we came into the business a year-and-a-half ago, and that model had kind of run its course over 15, 16 years. It has been emulated by everybody. It wasn’t special or different. But also in the background, we felt there were better ways to be purposeful moving into the next 15, 20, 30 years of the company.

So, we spent a lot of time last year as a new leadership team really thinking about what we would do if we were a startup today, being purpose-led. What would that giving model be? What social issues would we get behind? What communities would we serve? And we were prepared to take “One for One” off the table, which was not an easy decision. A lot of people in the company and a lot of our external partners told us, “Well, that’s what we’re famous for, so why wouldn’t you keep doing it?” And we said, “That’s what we were famous for, but what are we going to be famous for?” 

We started with a clean piece of paper, and we ended up with one-third of profits. Very transparent. The more we sell, the more we give. Very transparent, a contemporary way of talking about giving, transparent with our profits. And then we shifted our model towards giving to local communities at the grassroots level in the U.S., and particularly in Los Angeles where we’re based. You know, if you can’t serve your own neighborhood and communities first, who can you serve? Particularly in areas that we felt were important to the younger generation, which we’ll get into.

But, yeah, it was a huge amount of work, a big decision, and not a decision that many companies take — to take something off the table that they’re famous for and reinvent, which comes back to understanding what makes you iconic.

John Koetsier

And which companies start with a clean sheet of paper and start by saying, “Hey, if we were a startup today, what would we do?” That is so unusual.

Ian Stewart

Yeah, that was one of the things. Were we or are we famous for One for One? Yes. Or are we famous for being a giving, purpose-led company? Even more yes. That’s what we’re famous for, so that gave us the license to say, “Let’s keep being purpose-led and lead with impact and giving, but let’s change the model to make it more relevant for today.”

Peggy Anne Salz

Perfect siding, changing the model. Exactly that. Because I was going to ask the question again just to dig a little deeper in that because you said, “Oh, you know, we found out that it had run its course.” I wanted to understand a little bit more about that but also that change in that model. Can you elaborate just a bit more, Ian?

Ian Stewart

Yeah. TOMS has been known as a pioneer in the giving and purpose space, which we wanted to continue being famous for innovating. And we innovated 15, 16 years ago by coming up with that model with our founder, Blake, to buy a pair of shoes and give one. As I mentioned, now that buy-one-give-one model is everywhere across footwear, across fashion, across all sorts of categories. So, we weren’t really living with something that differentiated us, and it didn’t give us a lot of flexibility unless we wanted to start, you know, buy-one-give-10 or buy-one-give-30. We’ve been doing a transparent profit model, and coming out with a model that’s quite a large give in the world of profit-giving. As I said, it’s transparent, and it’s also really leaned into the reality that we are a company that wants to sell products so that we can give. So, that’s where we landed.

John Koetsier

That’s a really good segue, actually, because you are purpose-driven. Your website literally says, “We’re in the business to improve lives,” but you still have to run that business. You still have to grow that business. How does that purpose… how do you take that and use it to drive you and your business forward?

Ian Stewart

Gosh, being a new leadership team, many of us coming from footwear, one of our first observations coming into TOMS was that the giving was fundamental to the company and the culture and what we’re famous for, but we had to be in the business of making money, and the business was footwear and shoes. We felt that the company hadn’t put enough attention on modernizing our famous silhouette, the Alpargata, really making it as fashion-forward and fashion-relevant as it could be and just selling a lot of shoes. You know, people don’t buy impact. They buy shoes. The impact is what differentiates you from other footwear companies, and it also makes the consumer feel good about the purchase, but you can’t wear impact. We flipped the model of the company so that we are in business to improve lives, that’s our mission, and our business model is footwear.

So, we came here and we have all the product portfolio. We elevated the iconic silhouette. We celebrated it last year as this is what we’re known for, the Alpargata slip-on. And then a couple of months later, we started to launch new modern versions starting in June with the Mallow, which is a women’s modern version, modern light construction, super comfortable, and a men’s version called the Rover. Then through the pipeline of this year into next year, 2022 and 2023, we’re going to continue celebrating our product, the Alpargata. We’re a footwear company. That’s what TOMS does. That’s the business that we’re in — to improve the lives that we’ve set out to do with our impact. So, quite a significant shift. And, hopefully, something that’s helpful to some of the people who are listening or watching today is to think about what it is that makes you iconic. What product? What category? What are you known for, and how can you celebrate that and be proud of it?

John Koetsier

You’re kind of unique because you’re the CMO, you’re also the chief digital officer, which means that not only do you set a lot of strategy and strategic direction and do the branding and a variety of other things, you also participate in some of the tactics digitally on modern platforms, mobile, desktop, all of that stuff, and making that come alive. What tactics and tools do you use in marketing this business that you’re talking about?

Ian Stewart

I came into this role as the CMO. And our CEO, Magnus, who I’ve worked with for 15 years across multiple companies, he’s a product guru, he’s a product guy. I’m a marketing guy. When I came into the role, we saw a huge opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done before or isn’t done enough, and I honestly think it’s something that companies should be thinking more about, which is giving the CMO full accountability of e-comm, given its importance as a channel, as a business channel. CMOs typically look after the brand, and the marketing, and the asset creation, and the marketing plans and spend, but don’t own particularly the e-comm and the direct-to-consumer channels, so that becomes another team. Often as a CMO, you’re really focused on brand value, and brand health, and brand longevity, so you’re thinking out along the way. The e-comm team in contrast is thinking about yesterday’s sales, today’s sales, and tomorrow’s sales. So, it’s very, very here and now, and immediate. There could often be rifts between the two agendas. One team is trying to sell as much as they can today regardless, and the other team is trying to build a long-term brand.

Having the opportunity to be over both teams means that I could integrate short- and long-term goals and try to get as synergistic as we can so that everything we put into the daily pipe for e-comm is building brand value for the long-term, which is what the marketing team is all about. So, that’s been particularly important. I think that a lot of e-comm decisions, particularly in performance marketing and level funnel, are done just to sell stuff, and it’s certainly not done to build an image of being a purpose-led company. They’re being done to throw assets into Facebook because other people click on it and buy it. I’m trying to get a better balance between those two agendas and get to the halfway point and build a brand while selling as much as we can in the short-term. As I said, we’re in business to improve lives. So, that’s what their role is. It’s been really fun to build really strong bridges between brand marketing and e-comm.

The team that sits in the middle of those two is the performance marketing team, which in any company is the team that gets thrown between the two agendas because they’re marketing. So, doing a lot of work with that team and the performance agency so that we’re all on the same page in terms of short- and long-term goals. And, gosh, I mean, there’s nobody listening right now who would not agree that this last year has been the most challenging as it comes to digital marketing, which is from navigating the change of consumer behavior as everybody went inside with the pandemic, and, obviously, everybody rushed towards changing their spend patterns from travel and restaurants to buying goods and doing it online, and doing it on websites. Principally, by turning all of our energies and attention to digital marketing, and, separately, we also overhauled and built a world-class website in four months that was later to be built over 12 to 18 months starting next year… or this year, sorry, ’21. So, we did it in 2020. We talked to our agency who gave us that 12-to-18-month timeline, and we said, “Well, can you do it in three?” They said, “If we meet every day instead of every week,” and every day we made decisions for the next day, and we said, “Let’s do it.” So, we built an incredibly fast-turnaround website to be ready for what we thought was a short-lived situation with the pandemic. It turned out to be a lot longer than we expected. So, we got our website and mobile experience to replace… We changed our focus for all the teams towards digital and e-commerce, so that was navigating the beginnings of the pandemic and consumer behavior.

Then we got into the craziness of the supply chain, very early for us. Earlier this year in 2021, we were losing whole containers off ships that were bloated, overstacked. At one point, five ships had overboard containers and we were on three of them, so we had to navigate that. There were factory fires from factories being overloaded as well. There was all the impact of Covid in areas with factories in Southern China and Vietnam. We moved through all of that at the beginning of this year. 

Then we were faced with the Apple privacy Facebook opt-out situation, which we fundamentally agreed that, you know, if you’re going to be tracked, you need to know about it. If you don’t want to be tracked, you need to be able to opt out. But that caused a big change in how all of us could target the consumer, particularly with AI in the machine and looking for look-alike targets. So, we had to pivot really quickly to keep momentum in that space separately with digital marketing just because everybody was spending on digital to get to e-commerce the cost per acquisition. CPMs were going through the roof, 50-percent up in terms of cost to acquire a consumer, so we had that cost. We were fortunate we had enough e-comm momentum to keep this going through, and now we’re just picking up the pieces and getting ready for next year.

John Koetsier

Wow.

Peggy Anne Salz

I mean, John, when he just puts it all into that perspective, you’d just think, yes, this is what the year was. But when you hear it all in one piece, you say, wow, it is amazing that CMOs and companies are where they are. It was the most challenging.

Ian Stewart

Seriously, it’s no wonder my hair hasn’t gone gray, seriously.

John Koetsier

Hey, you have hair.

Ian Stewart

No wonder yours didn’t fall out. Pretty much, companies have come through it all because the other thing that’s happening that we’re all reading about in the… It’s all front-page news from climate change to supply chain to pandemic to the Apple privacy and the great resignation. We’re also managing and navigating through a hugely mobile workforce right now. All of those things make you really learn to be a precise leader and make clear, concise, swift decisions. There was no time this year to be thinking more than in the moment, to lean into all your experience with confidence and say, “This isn’t working. We have to do this. And if we don’t, we won’t have a business. So, we have to move this very quickly.” 

I think we’re going to come out of all of what we’ve learned in the last 18 months, as more confident leaders — if we come out of it successfully. If we don’t come out of it successfully, we’ll come out of it as leaders who’ll have learned a lot of lessons in how to do things differently the next time around. Because in 30 years of marketing, I’ve never had a year with so many macro factors.

For us at TOMS, just to layer in our brand journey, a year-and-a-half ago, we did this whole reset of our impact model, which was a big deal to shift from One for One to one-third of profits. We did a creative overhaul to change the whole look and feel. We rebranded with our logo and trademarks. We reset all of our photography to be more youthful. We also reset our whole creative direction to be more diverse and speak to a larger variety of different communities. Internally we set our whole brand up to do a complete overhaul, reset, and relaunch, which we did in April this year, which in any other year is a huge amount of work. In any other year, that’s a big job, particularly because we’re trying to reset our brand from being, an aging consumer who came to us 15 years ago when she was in her 20s and now she’s in her 40s, and we want to be relevant to her but with a youthful outlook for the brand. We want to be a brand that’s positioned as a 20-something brand. 

All of that was in play, that’s all internal hard work that we did. And then we had to wrap with all the macro, see, even going out into the marketplace with this new fresh brand, and a new relevant impact model, and all those brand-new shoes that are modern, and comfortable, and lightweight. And then you’re faced with supply chain, and the pandemic, and no retail stores, and wholesale partners disappearing, and people opting out of Facebook, everything like that. Again, if this hasn’t made us all tougher leaders, then I don’t know what will.

John Koetsier

Peggy, you just said it. I have to say it again. Sometimes we don’t recognize all the stuff we’ve gone through. Sometimes we don’t remember. We’re so focused on what’s coming, what’s forward, what’s ahead, what’s the next challenge. We don’t take 30 seconds to look at the past and say 2020 and 2021 changed our perceptions of work, of business, of life, and changed our perceptions of what’s possible. You built a year-and-a-half website in four months, right? You rebranded. You changed your purpose somewhat, how it’s expressed. You’re coming out with multiple new lines, and you’re doing that, as you said, during the great resignation. You’re in Santa Barbara. Your workforce is wherever your workforce happens to be, and somehow you’re managing all of this. Peggy, some of us these past two years, we’ve done amazing things.

Ian Stewart

Yeah, truly. I think this has been an absolutely pivotal year for doing so many things differently, and learning on the fly, and making decisions on the fly, for sure.

Peggy Anne Salz

I’m going to bring us back to something that’s a little bit less monumental, bring us back to marketing. Some things that you did differently, and there are a ton of them, but one that was very interesting was a very different approach to influencer marketing. Everyone is going in one direction. They’re looking for the popularity or the celebrity. You have a different approach. I guess the question is why you’re doing this and where you’re doing it as well. Because, as you mentioned yourself, your existing audience maybe would’ve liked a different influencer approach, but you found the path less traveled.

Ian Stewart

We put hard and heavy expectations on ourselves with the marketing of our impact. We recognize that we’re looked upon as a brand that’s famous for leading with social impact, and we’re very thankful for that. We understand that a lot of other brands follow our lead when it comes to how you do impact. We get asked all the time to not just speak on podcasts or roundtables with companies but speak to the media and talk about all of those. So, underneath wanting to reinvent with the one-third of profits for grassroots good that supports issues such as mental health and access to opportunity for marginalized communities. That’s our giving intent, which is this new way of doing it that we believe is the right way for the world we live in today and in the future. The marketing team has to then market with that in mind. That’s not just our giving model, that’s our company’s mantra internally and externally. How do you then market with purpose in its center, given that we’ve shifted all those models? My team and I went through all the things you do in marketing and we challenged: How would you do celebrity, how would you do influencer, how would you do media partnerships, and how would you do collaborations, if impact was the main reason for doing it? Impact, meaning we want to make an impact in the world. We want to line up with the issues such as mental health that are important to us. How would you collaborate with mental health in the center? How would you use influencers to sell products but with mental health or access to opportunity or marginalized community at the center?

It created a lot more work because instead of just buying a suite of influencers from an agency to help your product, which is not the TOMS way, that didn’t feel like the right way to do that. That might be fine for another company, but if people are looking to us as a leader in purpose, then just buying influencers is not very purposeful. We’ve had to hand-select influencers who have recognized authority and awareness in the spaces that are important to us, and part of that is knowing who we’re not going to line up with. We’ve made a choice around mental health and access to opportunity, particularly in certain marginalized communities, so that means we’re not going to line up with climate change influencers, for example, or people who are doing human rights in trafficking, or addiction, for example. We know our lane and we’re sticking to our lane. That’s a really important part of our strategy: crafting a strategy and sticking to it, refining the tactics but sticking to the strategy.

Hand-picking influencers who are already in this space is a very, very manual process. We’ve worked with nearly 100 influencers this year, and every single one of them is bulletproof as it relates to someone looking at that person and saying, are they from the LGBTQ community? Yes. Are they advocates for mental health or access to opportunity? Yes. We’ve lined up with them with shared values and common purpose, and they’re also presenting our products. That’s some heavy lift on the influencer side. As I said, we had to do it manually versus just buying groups of people. We’re halfway through the process of doing that at a higher level with celebrities, and that’s even harder because you’re also dealing with people who are very, very visible publicly, and we want to make sure that visibility is as much recognized for their social impact as it is for their celebrity, so we’re in that process. 

And finally, we did it with collaborations, which I’m sure Peggy will get to in a minute. The collaboration piece was both the hardest because it’s never been done before, but the most rewarding because we did something that hasn’t been done before, which is to collaborate with other products through the lens of impact.

John Koetsier

We have the chief digital officer talking about doing stuff in a very manual way, not scalable. It has to be done one by one by one to get it done right and purposefully. Let’s also talk about customer retention and how you focus on that. What drives customer retention for you, and how does that differ across different segments of your customers?

Ian Stewart

We are currently operating two funnels. We have a very strong, loyal base of women who’ve been around with us for the long haul, for up to 15, 16 years. She loves to buy her core Alpargatas slip-ons. She likes to buy the seasonals, and the special prints, and increasingly, some of our collaborations. We can depend on her and the millions and millions and millions of consumers who are extremely loyal to us. We have a great relationship. We know where they are, we know who they are, we know what they’re like, and it becomes very predictable for us when we launch seasonal prints, and colors, and patterns that she’ll be there for us. So, we continue through the loyalty program and email to engage and speak to her. It’s a great thing, but as she’s gotten older, it’s also not something you want to hang your only hat on because she came to our brand in her early 20s and she’s now, 15 years later, not in her early 20s.

That’s important, and that’s a big part of our retention, but part of the things we’ve done more recently is to start acquiring a new, younger consumer. So, we’ve got that lower funnel retention for that lady and we’re very thankful for her. We’re now building up a funnel for a new, younger Gen Z, younger Millennial consumer who we’re introducing our brand to. She may not even know who TOMS is or she may know us obliquely as something that her older sister, auntie, mother has worn before. She may or may not know One for One. She certainly will increasingly know one-third of profits for grassroots good. And we hope that she knows us not just for that one-third of profits giving model but for the new shoes we’re making. We don’t need to give her a history lesson and say we are famous for the classic Alpargata slip-on, but we need to go say, “We made a modern shoe called the Mallow. If you’re interested, it’s inspired by our famous classic slip-on Alpargata.” But we’re speaking to her as if she doesn’t know who we are. We’re building a relationship with her with our acquisition strategies starting at the absolute top of the funnel with PR, and influencers, and media partnerships, and collaborations. And we’ve only really just begun that journey. We’re less than six months into engaging her. So, we’re still working at the highest level to bring her into the brand and making her aware of who we are, and what we do, and what we make, and what we sell, and then we’ll move her through over time.

That all sounds great on paper. You know, it’s harder to explain to our owners that we have this loyal lady but she’s getting older. We now have a new target and she’s younger. And if we get the targeting right and be fashion-forward and socially responsible, some of the older Millennial women will like that as well. I believe in fashion, you want to be inspiring to all demographics, all groups, and you do that by being youthful. So, we’re going after this younger consumer, but she’s not going to come running to us overnight. You can’t just do one collab, three influencers, and a couple of ads on Instagram, and suddenly you have them all running through your door. They’re not waiting for us to do that. It’s a journey with acquisition, and we’ve only just begun that. 

So, we’ve got a marathon in acquisition. We have the urgency of retention given all the volatility of the marketplace. We are running two funnels, and eventually at some point next year, they might start to blend together as that new consumer starts to move down through our new retention and that becomes relevant. Then we believe that we’re acquiring anybody who’s socially responsible regardless of when the two funnels might come together, which should be interesting, but at this point, we have a lower and an upper, which is unique. I haven’t seen that before either.

Peggy Anne Salz

You mentioned it yourself. You can’t really, say, give a history lesson or educate, but you do have to combine these funnels. You ultimately want one. It’s also about the way you speak to the consumer, the customer. It’s a level of advertising and marketing, but it’s also very important empathy. So, how do you speak to these two consumer groups? Because you obviously also don’t want to be off-putting to your loyal audience, and you want to do it in a way that attracts a new one, as you said. How do you do that at a more practical level? What does that look like?

Ian Stewart

First of all, as you change a brand as fundamentally as we have, everything throughout the choices of colors, and the talent, and how we communicate a fashion style in simple ways like, do you wear socks with a slip-on or not? That’s a big generation divide between younger people who wear socks with slip-ons and older ones who don’t. You will lose people when you do a brand reset to the magnitude of 15 years of resetting from aiming out of 40-plus to a 20-plus. So, number one, we have to be ready to lose some as we gain. That’s okay. You can’t have everything. You can’t keep all the loyals and gain all the new ones. That sounds greedy to me. Number one, we may lose some to gain some, but at the same time, we’re looking for the middle ground with fashionability and social impact that should be appealing to anybody in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Again, there will be some that will drop off because we may not be as relevant as they thought we were before, and that’s okay, but our goal is to be a youthful brand that is fashion-forward and is deep in a relevant social impact space, and that should cut across demographics. That should cut across generations.

The sweet spot with a sharp point is that older Gen Z, younger Millennial. And we kind of learned across multiple brands starting at MTV, and at Converse, and at UGG, in fashion, that is a golden age, the early 20s. People younger look up to someone in their early 20s and say, “I can’t wait to be them.” And then any one of us who are older than the young 20s wish we were in our young 20s again. It’s a good sweet spot in fashion if we can get that mix right, if we get that nuance right. Interestingly, we’re not trying to be the sharpest fashion leader in the fashion space. That’s for catwalk brands and other people. We just want to be fashion-relevant and fashion-forward, which gives us probably a slightly wider net to catch. We’re not trying to break fashion trends. We’re just trying to make people look good and feel good about themselves.

John Koetsier

You’ve talked about reaching out to the customer, reaching this new consumer as well as existing. You’ve done some major partnerships, and you mentioned that, actually. How is that changing with your new focus, and what did you do with Wildfang?

Ian Stewart

Yeah. Thanks. We’re so excited about that. I’ve been fortunate to have been with Magnus, our CEO, in the product collaboration space for the longest time, all the way through Converse and my time at UGG. Traditionally, particularly in footwear, it’s two brands that come together to make what I call the holy sh-t impact, to do things that haven’t been seen before, done before — wow, it’s one plus one equals three, I never saw that coming — to get the brand heat, and hype, and excitement, and energy. A lot of those collaborations, they’re not volume drivers. They’re just simply to get attention, particularly in the one plus one equals three. It’s very product-focused and it’s very… There are either two brands that are obviously good matches or sometimes there are two brands that aren’t good matches who’d come together and make something incredibly unexpected.

First, to keep doing that wouldn’t be very pioneering. We’d just be doing product collaborations with other people to make versions of our products. So, Kelsey, our PR and brand comm lead, and I said, “What’s the TOMS way? How would TOMS approach a collaboration? Still with products because we want to make stuff and sell stuff, but how would TOMS, through the lens of purpose and pioneering, do collaborations differently?” We set about looking for other brands in the fashion and footwear space. We shared purpose values and visions that we had, starting with a fantastic, beautiful brand from Portland called Wildfang. And we came to them and said, “Look, we share some common goals and some common values around empowering and elevating certain communities. Let’s come together and make an impact. Let’s come together and sell stuff and give to those communities.”

So, our relationship is about coming together so that one plus one equals three in a giving sense. Let’s give more because we’ve come together than we would if we were doing it on our own. Let’s celebrate that with great storytelling and content that elevates awareness for these communities. And finally, let’s make products together that celebrate the partnership. We flipped the whole collaboration approach on its head. Instead of saying, “Look at the products we’ve made, and, by the way, we’re giving because of it,” or, “By the way, look at this film that celebrates the products,” it says, “Come together to support communities.” Let’s make content that celebrates and boosts those communities, and the product is simply the thing that proves we did it. So, we did the first one. We launched it a couple of weeks ago with Wildfang. It was a head-to-toe. They’re famous, if you don’t know, for their head-to-toe coverall. So, we did a head-to-toe collection with their coverall, and some shoes, and some socks, and we’re pretty much sold out across both websites.

John Koetsier

Amazing.

Ian Stewart

And it was all about what we were doing to give back. We found a nonprofit that we both believed in that was the focus of our giving. We elevated that nonprofit. They’re called ProjectQ. We made content about them, and why they were important, and why we were coming together to support them, and here’s the product that recognizes this partnership. We have a whole roadmap over the next two years of similar sorts of collaborations with impact at its core, giving at its core with product that celebrates the reason two brands have come together, particularly in areas like mental health and access to opportunity. We hope that gets people’s attention. We hope that in this very colored wall of product collaborations that more brands see the opportunity to collaborate with purpose in mind and product as a reason. So, we’ll see. We’re excited.

John Koetsier

Ian, Peggy and I have talked to a lot of people — very, very impressive people. Still, there’s a few ones that we do here and there that stand out head and shoulders, and this is going to be one of them for me. I’m seeing Peggy kind of nod here, so I’m thinking that’s true for her as well. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much for sharing. Thank you so much for being open about some of the challenges and difficulties you’ve gone through and actually celebrating them as well, celebrating our passage through them. Really do appreciate your time.

Ian Stewart

Thank you, John. Thank you, Peggy. That’s awesome. Had a great time.

Peggy Anne Salz

It’s definitely a plus-one, Ian, particularly when you just put it on the line. People do not buy impact, they buy product. And then it’s the strategy of combining them so beautifully as you have. I can only say, are we writing a new playbook? Which is maybe what exactly we need to hear because we’ve heard the drama of this last two years that still got me thinking, “Oh, my goodness, we’re still here.” Absolutely. Such a pleasure to have you on the show and have you share that.

Ian Stewart

Fantastic. Thank you, Peggy. Thanks, John. Thanks so much. And thanks, everyone, for listening. Hopefully, there’s something there you can take away and do more good in the world.

 

Last updated on February 11, 2022