That Time We Brought Snow to Los Angeles

October 7th, 2013 by TOMS

The Development of the Winter Boot

Every shoe distribution cycle, our Giving Partners report back to us on how the shoes we give hold up in the regions they serve. They provide us with information on durability, climate, terrain and any other needs they may see based on the children they encounter every day. It’s from reports like these that we learn of other needs in the field. And more importantly, it’s how our other Giving Shoes – like the Sports Shoe and our Winter Boot came into existence.

But developing new Giving Shoes isn’t easy. Our Giving and Product Development teams encounter many challenges when designing and testing new shoes for our Giving Partners. On the daily, we face challenges in clearing customs and short timelines for release. But when developing the Winter Boot, we faced our most unique challenge to date: a lack of snow to test them in.

TOMS values the entrepreneurial spirit and — in one of our most innovative solutions yet — when we couldn’t bring our Winter Boots into the snow, we brought the snow to us.

Gloria, our Impact and Innovation Specialist, shares the story here:

For a long time, we knew there was a real need in all of the Eastern European countries we’re giving in, that the Canvas shoe wasn’t always going to be warm enough, especially during the winter time. This holds true on the Native American reservations in the United States, too, where Giving Partner National Relief Charitiesworks. The more rural you get in these areas, the more the need for a winter shoe grows.

We were working on a short timeline to get the Winter Boot out in time for ship date that would meet winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It was July, so we were approaching the tail end of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, where we decided to test the shoes in countries like Peru.

We had great durability tests and the kids really liked them, but there was one issue: there was no snow on the ground anywhere we tested the shoes. And one of the concerns about a Winter Boot is making sure that snow won’t seep into the sides. At this point, we had just two weeks left to figure this out. If we didn’t make hit our timeline, the shoes wouldn’t ship in time for winter.

Sebastian, our Chief Giving Officer, gave me the OK to do whatever was necessary to make sure the boots tested so we could go into full production. After a lot of brainstorming and some really silly ideas, I realized I needed to somehow bring snow to Los Angeles…in July.

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Suddenly, I had a thought: a snow machine. My thought process went something like this: “There’s a movie industry here, so surely, someone in the entertainment industry here is making real snow for some movie set and I can probably get him to make snow at TOMS HQ, too.”

I remember running out of a meeting and running up to Sebastian shouting, “SNOW MACHINE! SNOW MACHINE!” He stared at me blankly until I continued, “I could rent a snow machine, bring the snow to TOMS HQ and our Winter Boots can be tested here!”

All he said was “Do it.” He thought it was a silly idea, but I think he also knew it was a good idea.

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The day it “snowed at HQ” was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had at TOMS. We had two tons of snow brought into the dog run, being shot over a fence from our neighbor’s parking lot. In the meantime, I had created a survey of the different things we needed tested. I even asked one tester on our Giving team to test how warm and dry your feet would stay if you were in the snow for an extended period of time. She stood in the snow for 2 hours to make sure nothing seeped inside. She worked on her laptop, in a tank top in July, in the snow, in Los Angeles. Needless to say, she was freezing…but her feet stayed warm and dry. Success!

After a day of running, jumping and playing in the snow, just a couple of miles from the beach, our answer was really clear…and quite quickly: the Winter Boot was performing just as we needed it to, making it ready for the distributions our Giving Partners do today in the United States, China, Eastern Europe and South America.