Giving back by putting shirts on backs of Haitians

By Rebecca Powers – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Blake Mycoskie came to the Gulf Coast a few years ago with gifts for thousands of children affected by Katrina. He is the founder of the multi-million dollar company "Toms," but the title he likes most is "Chief Shoe Giver." For every shoe he sells, he gives one to a person in need.

Gulfport entrepreneur and clothing designer Steve Johnson or "Scuba Steve" contacted Mycoskie. The recent college grad was fascinated by him and his works of charity intertwined with business.

Johnson said, "Very inspirational, yes, he set the stage for what I'm doing." Johnson learned that Toms shoes' business plan is to give away as much as it receives.

The founder of the "Scuba Steve" clothing line said, "And so I was like that's awesome you know. We started talking. I said I could do that, and he said if you feel strongly about it, go for it."

Now "Scuba Steve" has that same business model and boy, is making success sweet.

Johnson said, "I do one store per city. I'm in 13 cities now. By the end of the summer, I'll be in 20, so we're growing and growing. We have good people following it. I'm excited to say that. The supporters make the brand, and that's how it should be, so here we are."

Here in a position to earn a living and make a real difference. He says it's more rewarding than he ever imagined.

"It's good. It's a good thing to help somebody; I think," Johnson said. "I just like to help people."

Johnson has already given away close to 1,000 "Scuba Steve" shirts to local charities.

"I give a t-shirt to the homeless for every shirt that I sell, and I donate to Good Will and the Salvation Army."

But his local mission has been diverted for a little while at least, since the tragic earthquake in Haiti.

"Because he helped Gulfport after Katrina, so I'm saying hey Gulfport's got your back. We're coming back to help you."

He's talking about New York clothing designer Philip Annand who came to help after Katrina. The two met at a local church where they were both volunteering. Now, Annand's entire family has been devastated, you see, he is from Port Au Prince.

"They lost everything, they live in the streets, and I said, 'You know what? Let me send you some money. Let me send you some shirts. Let me sell my shirts as an avenue to help your family.'"

Thanks to the small business started in the back of a USM marketing class two years ago, Steve Johnson and his "Scuba Steve" label have been able to help not only those in South Mississippi, but those suffering so much, a half a world away.

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