IN THE WASH I'm 32 and I started my first company at 18. I had wanted to be a professional tennis player but I got injured so I began a laundry business at Southern Methodist University [in Dallas, the United States], where I was at school. It became very successful. We had 40 employees and outlets all over the country. I then started a TV network - which I launched after appearing on the second season of The Amazing Race with my sister - and an [advertising] agency. I always dreamed of being a philanthropist and travelling the world helping people. A lot of entrepreneurs do a lot of damage as they make their money and then turn to helping other people. My idea was to make a lot of money and then retire and start giving stuff away but then I decided it would be smarter and quicker to be making money and helping people at the same time. BECOMING A SOLE MATE The first time I met lots of people who had no shoes was in South Africa. And I could see that having no shoes can be a major problem. We have this romantic idea about being barefoot and if you don't wear shoes on the beach in Los Angeles or even on the street in New York you're not going to get sick. Your feet might get dirty but you won't pick up parasites. But in impoverished parts of the world, some really nasty diseases are transmitted through bare feet. In southern Ethiopia people get podoconiosis through the pores at the bottom of their feet and that causes something a bit like elephantiasis and it eventually destroys the lymphatic system. Because it's a disfiguring disease, many people who get it are ostracised and women sufferers in particular have a high rate of suicide. I've seen numbers that say a billion people worldwide are at risk of getting this disease and a pair of shoes is the most effective and simple solution. THE RIGHT SHOE I was in Argentina, in 2006, when I found the shoe that I thought would be perfect for my plan. It's called an alpargata and it's basically the Argentinian version of the espadrille. It has a canvas body which makes it easy to create lots of designs. So I founded TOMS - Shoes for Tomorrow, with the idea that we would sell the alpargata in the US and for every pair that was bought, we would give a pair to a child who could not afford shoes. In the first six months we sold 10,000 pairs and we gave away 10,000 pairs. It was very emotional because we went to Argentina for a shoe drop and there I was putting a pair on a kid who had never worn shoes and I'd look over and my mom was doing it and my dad was doing it and I felt this was what it was all about, that we had fulfilled the promise we had made. FREE-CONOMICS People told me I was crazy and that the one-for-one model would never work and I'd be broke but the economics of buy one, give one free are simple. The shoe companies spend billions of dollars on commercials but TOMS spends nothing on advertising. Nike maybe spends 20 per cent of its revenue on all that stuff, what with billboards and ad campaigns. We take that money and make a second pair of shoes instead, and we rely on our customers to market the shoes for us - which they do because they are proud to do this. I must get eight or nine e-mails a day from people who want to get involved with TOMS and they use Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about what we do. WELL HEALED There have been so many stories from our first three years that can bring tears to my eyes. Probably the most powerful is one from Ethiopia. There was a woman and she had podoconiosis and was disfigured and on the verge of suicide. We got her shoes and she has now been healed. She became sought after and has married and set up her own hairdressing salon and started a donkey 'U-haul' business. She got over the disease and is beautiful and has a business and money. THE BOTTOM LINES I live on a sailboat and if I'm in Los Angeles, I start every morning with a run. If I don't do it then, I never do it. I get into the office at 8am and catch up with e-mails from Europe and Asia. But I am only in LA six days a month because I travel so much to spread the TOMS message and get shoes to people who need them. I like to focus on one thing at a time, so I might spend a whole day working with our marketing team on our Facebook strategy. I try to take one month off every year. I really love sailing, I love horses and polo and I spend a lot of time out on my farm in Argentina and with my girlfriend, [actress Maggie Grace, one of the stars of Lost and The Jane Austen Book Club]. My next goal is to create a programme that will eradicate podoconiosis from Ethiopia. I could not have done any of this without the backing of my parents. They are the main reason I have the opportunity to do these big, audacious things. It's not about the money, they are just always there to give me support. TOMS shoes are available at On Pedder, Wheelock House, Pedder Street, Central, tel: 2118 3489.