When Blake was 29, he took some time off work to travel around Argentina and immerse himself in the culture. While he was there, he saw the Alpargata which is a soft canvas shoe that is very common. Blake thought the shoe might have some appeal in the U.S. market but didn’t know anything about the shoe or fashion industry. While still traveling in Argentina he met an American woman volunteering on a shoe drive. They would collect shoes and distribute them to those who didn’t have shoes. Unfortunately, the shoes were sometimes the wrong size or there just weren’t enough shoes to go around. Many kids still went without shoes and while traveling with the group he saw the effects of not having shoes. This gave him the idea of a for profit business that would sell a pair of shoes and then give a pair of shoes to those in need.
Blake wanted shoes that were durable and more apt for the U.S. market. He found a manufacturer that saw the vision and helped him create the shoes. He went to LA to sell his shoes and, because he knew little about the fashion industry, asked some women what stores might want to sell his shoes. They gave him a list of stores which he then started contacting. Finally, he went to a clothing store and asked for the shoe buyer and got his first retail customer.
Soon after, a writer for the LA times heard of his story and promised to write about it. Blake woke up one Saturday morning to see the that front page of the LA times calendar section had his story on it. At the end of that day he had 2200 orders for shoes but only had 160 pairs of shoes left to sell. On top of that, his website promised 4-day delivery. Blake quickly put out an ad for some interns and had them call customers to let them know they wouldn’t get their shoes in 4 days because they didn’t have inventory. Of the 2200 people, only 1 cancelled their order even though many had to wait up to 8 weeks to get their shoes. Blake sold 10,000 pairs of shoes out of his apartment that first summer.