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Changing lives one foot at a time

Charlize Theron draws inspiration from the founder of TOMS

September/October 2015

Charlize Theron, 40, is an Oscar-winning actress and activist. In 2007 she co-founded a project to raise awareness of HIV, largely in her native South Africa. Blake Mycoskie, 39, is a Texan entrepreneur and founder of the philanthropic retailer TOMS

If I was going to make a movie about a guy who saves the world, I’d cast Blake – you can read adventure off his face and the way he carries his body. I first met him in 2009. I had launched my Africa outreach project (CTAOP), and a mutual friend thought we would get along. We had dinner at this little restaurant in Beverly Hills, and the first thing that struck me was his naughtiness. There’s a real child-like wonder about him. He and I just hit it off. I think we closed the place.

In 2006, he told me, he was in a village in Argentina surrounded by people and their children. He noticed how many of the kids didn’t have shoes. So he came up with this idea to make and sell shoes – and for every pair he sold, another pair would be given to a child in need. He called this concept “one-for-one”. Since then, TOMS has given shoes to more than 45m children around the world.

CTAOP has now done three shoe collections with TOMS. We work a lot in KwaZulu-Natal, a place where teenagers have a 50% chance of being infected with HIV. But you can’t just look at HIV; you have to look at poverty, you have to look at education, and sometimes you have to look at feet. These children might have to walk ten miles to get to school, and many didn’t have shoes.

I visited shortly after we started, and every­one was very skittish. They’d been through a lot of pain and turmoil: an adult generation devastated by AIDS; people being told that if you raped a virgin you’d be cured. It was just lie after lie after lie, and the result was a young generation who are very sceptical. I thought, “Oh God, this is going to fail miserably,” and went home demoralised. But then I saw Blake and he just said, “Be patient.” And he was right. I returned seven months later, and you could not stop the sex-education classes. People – kids – were asking questions about healthy sex that had been considered so taboo. Plus they were all wearing TOMS shoes.

What makes TOMS so successful is Blake’s under­standing of how to change lives through business. We’ll be working together again – he doesn’t have a choice. We had dinner not so long ago. We were laughing because we used to eat at 9pm, but now we both have kids we get there at 6.30 for the early-bird special. We used to close restaurants. These days, we warm them up. 

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