We all know and love TOMS for their shoes, but when we had a chance to visit the company’s headquarters in California last month, we only had eyes for their glasses.
Located off a quiet street in Playa Vista (about a ten minute drive from Venice Beach), the TOMS building is more like a hip student union hub than corporate office. Ping-pong tables and picnic benches line the manicured lawn and wooden deck outside, while a coffee bar (serving organic beans, of course) awaits on the other side of the entrance. Just make sure to bring your own mug – there are no styrofoam cups here!
With an open concept, loft-style space, the office is divided by departments, with employees separated only by corkboard-like cubicles. (To further a family atmosphere, even some of the high-level managers and directors were spotted in cubicles!) Don’t feel like taking the stairs down from the top floor? A winding tube slide takes employees down to the main level in mere seconds.
After a quick tour of the office, we had a chance to sit down with Jeff Gilberti, the Vice-President of Eyewear at TOMS, to discuss the motivation behind the TOMS eyewear line and preview some of the new offerings for Spring 2014.
As Gilberti explains, the launch of TOMS eyewear started, “from the give.” When founder Blake Mycoskie went down to Africa and Asia, he saw a large number of people affected by cataracts – one of the leading causes of blindness. Vision impairment affects more than 285 million people around the world, and according to estimates, more than 80% of these people can be cured. Seeing the success of his shoe donation, Mycoskie wanted to make the same impact with the gift of sight. Adapting their well-known “One for One” policy, proceeds from each pair of TOMS glasses sold will go toward providing cataract surgery for one person in need. TOMS has teamed up with locally based organizations to train residents to provide professional care. So it’s not just an investment in the clinics and hospitals; it’s an investment in the people who work in them. Current “gives” are taking place in Cambodia, Guatemala, Nepal and a number of other countries around the world.
But while the charitable component of a company is always commendable, it won’t work without a strong product. Fortunately, TOMS has introduced a collection of eyewear that is both attractive and affordable. Gilberti says it starts with creating something classic – styles that “worked 40 years ago and will work 40 years from now.” Popular silhouettes like the Aviator, Cat-Eye and Wayfarer are refined and re-imagined in new colorways and patterns. And the price – ranging from $55 to $169 – allows the stylish frames to be accessible to everyone.
For spring, TOMS is introducing a number of bolder, more fashion-forward options. Think thick, rounded shades in a beautiful emerald green and bright pink, or bookish tortoiseshell frames that are slightly oversized. The company experimented with materials too, using ebony wood and a burmese teak outer layer, in addition to rich acetate.
Our favorite is the new collection of frames that feature fabric inlays. Instead of painting over the glasses, vintage-inspired textiles like burlap and chambray are inserted inside the acetate, creating a unique look that’s at once textured and smooth. Other pairs mirror the TOMS footwear collection, using the same cotton and patterns seen on the shoes. That daisy-like print in the sunglasses below? You’ll also find the same print on a pair of slip-on shoes.
Every pair of glasses is hand-finished, with TOMS signature painted tips (which this season are painted in light blue, pink and orange). The sunglasses offer 100% UVA/UVB protection, while the optical frames can be easily fitted with prescription lenses.
What impressed us most during our visit to the TOMS headquarters though, wasn’t the variety of frame options or the new patterns or the cool displays. Rather, it was the way in which the company is so passionately working on developing its eyewear line. Gilberti and his team could have easily coasted on the company’s name recognition and buzz to sell a few pairs of cheap glasses. Instead, they’ve approached the eyewear extension with a great deal of quality and detail, making sure they’re creating glasses that would stand up against some of the best eyewear-only brands out there. And the thought and creativity they’ve put into each collection truly reflect the idea that eyewear is personal – not only for the designer and wearer, but for that person halfway around the world who is finding out just how personal that new pair of glasses can be – for you, for him, for her and forever.