By STEVEN NALLEY
Four students came to Reed’s of Starkville all the way from French Camp Academy to discover the contents of the TOMS mystery box Tuesday, and their excitement was palpable in the moments leading to the box opening.
Michaela Parker, Kat Witt, Kraeidra Cork and Jalya Robertson all wore matching TOMS tie-dye T-shirts they made themselves for TOMS’ “One Day Without Shoes” event. They also wore official TOMS shoes, and Parker and Witt had decorated those shoes with colorful paintings.
“It’s all I’ve been talking about for days,” Parker said.
Robertson said, “We rushed over here after we ate to get here in time.”
“It’s just so awesome; I can’t stop smiling,” Witt said.
Reed’s was one of 90 locations across America where TOMS unveiled a new line of sunglasses called TOMS Eyewear to benefit those in need of vision care.
The sunglasses are the newest addition to the “One for One” model TOMS has used to give one pair of its shoes away to a child who has none for every pair of shoes it sells. This time, instead of giving a pair of sunglasses away, TOMS will give medical treatment, prescription glasses or sight-saving surgery to one person for every pair of sunglasses sold. Prices for each pair range from $135 to $145.
Before TOMS representative Anya Farquhar opened the box, she showed the dozens of people gathered at Reed’s a video featuring TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie explaining the rationale behind this new direction. The video also showed several of the efforts TOMS has already made to bring vision care to children and others in Nepal.
“When I thought about expanding the TOMS model, vision was the first thing I thought about,” Mycoskie said in the video. “I think what’s really important is to understand how powerful it is to give sight to someone in need.”
Farquhar then opened the cylindrical mystery box to reveal a display for the glasses, followed by a second cardboard box full of the first real shipment of the sunglasses for Reed’s. She brought the audience’s attention to the frame design, which features a solid color near the ears, designer patterns such as wood or leopard spots on the rest of the rims, and a stripe in between.
“This is you,” Farquhar said, pointing to the designer pattern. “This is the fashion that you choose. The part in the back represents the child you’re helping, and the band in the middle represents the tie between you.”
Farquhar said she learned the box’s contents just a day before opening it, and it was easier for her to keep the secret than it was for others who have worked on the project for the past three years. Her emotions, she said, weren’t as easy to contain.
“The first time I watched the video, I teared up,” Farquhar said. “I think it’s going to make a difference to a lot of people. I’ve met a few of those kids, and I feel like every kid has a story.”
Farquhar said she was impressed with the turnout, the number of people wearing TOMS shoes already in Starkville and the amount of sunglasses sold Tuesday. She said she does not know exactly how Reed’s of Starkville became a Mystery Box location, but it is clear to her Starkville is a hotbed of TOMS support.
“From what I’ve heard, you guys have done an amazing job making TOMS popular,” Farquhar said.
It has yet to be determined, Farquhar said, whether TOMS Eyewear will eventually also include designer frames for prescription glasses. Also to be determined, Reed’s Starkville Manager Bo Summerford said, is whether Reed’s will be able to distribute the sunglasses to its other locations in Columbus and Tupelo before their wider release in October.
“All I can say is, ‘Wow,’” Summerford said. “I had no thought of you actually being able to buy one product and give something so pertinent to someone in need.”
Leading up to the event, visitors to all Reed’s locations could submit guesses to the Mystery Box’s contents for the chance to win a 20 percent discount on the product’s price. Out of more than 100, only two guessed correctly: Elizabeth Kemp from Tupelo and Beverly Smitherman from Starkville. Smitherman, owner of Cachet Designs Salon, said she submitted her guess minutes before Farquhar opened the box, and it felt amazing to win. Smitherman used her discount immediately — twice.
“I’m going to wear a pair and then have a fund-raiser with the other pair,” Smitherman said.”