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SXSW 2014 No. 9: TOMS on South Congress Opening Party

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

TOMS was made for Austin. And for SXSW. Young, stylish, philanthropic, the brand that sells shoes, sunglasses and apparel — while helping the needy — fits right into its new home on South Congress Avenue.

And, at a supremely unhurried party on Tuesday, founder Blake Mycoskie introduced a new product: TOMS Roasting Co., a coffee line that will help provide clean water and sanitation for the billions who still are without those essentials. One bag of coffee translates into 140 liters of clean water through its Water for People partner that works in five countries. It’s not exactly the one-for-one system that Mycoskie famously developed for shoe sales, but it expands the reach of his creative yoking of capitalism to charity.

Bonus: We get another excellent coffee shop on South Congress. One might argue that it will compete with the beloved Jo’s across the avenue, but that outdoor mecca is often so packed, one can’t find a place to rest those sore street-happy feet. Especially during SXSW.

TOMS has stripped down a modest, high-ceilinged Victorian house at South Congress and East Gibson Street into a shabby chic boutique that includes a gleaming coffee bar, discreet retail rooms and an inviting lounge area that leads to a copious back patio. Willowy guests in casual but carefully chosen attire mingled, mostly out back, during the party, with a few members of the media.

The changes to the high-profile property were so rapid, the frequent passerby could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be a TOMS pop-up store for the festival. On closer inspection, it’s a carefully thought-out retreat that appeals to so many of the things that are right about Austin.