Mrs. Evelyn Haas Remembers Mossy Oak’s Beginnings
By Joedee Robinson
Mrs. Evelyn Haas and I barely got our greetings out before she pointed to a few trees and said, “Toxey would come home and eat lunch with us every day. Those are the trees we’d put the fabric up to, at noon, to see if it matched.”
Mrs. Evelyn Haas has always been an integral part in the Mossy Oak story, sewing the first facemasks and working in R&D (run and do). But her role in Mossy Oak’s foundation was and is so much bigger than that. As Toxey’s mother, she fostered his personality and love of the outdoors, giving him the freedom to be creative and uninhibited.
“Toxey was always an inventive child,” she said. “He was never afraid to tackle anything.”
Toxey’s interest in better concealment than military camouflage could offer began when he was a teenager. Mrs. Evelyn recalled Toxey putting mud on his face, tie-dying cloth and using the sewing machine in his efforts to just blend in.
“I didn’t realize what he was doing, I just knew he made a mess,” she said.
It was some 10 years later when Toxey perfected his camouflage attempts. It was in the form of two patterns, with different coloring - a brown/taupe pattern, Bottomland and a gray version, Hill Country. Bottomland was the “fan” favorite, so it became Mossy Oak’s founding pattern.
“I first thought it was going to be a sideline,” she said. At the time, Toxey and his wife, Dianne were expecting their first child. “We tried to talk him out of it, but you couldn’t do it.”
It was evident to Mrs. Evelyn that Toxey wanted to work for himself. The day-to-day regimen at the job he held at the time just wasn’t a good fit for his personality. She recalls Toxey saying, “the only thing I really know is hunting.”
Being the always supportive mother, she said she would help him wherever she could and guaranteed there would be a roof over his head and something to eat. Mrs. Evelyn spent the next three years helping Toxey’s new venture get off the ground.
Of course there were hurdles. The first being, who could print a small order of fabric? Toxey took the phone book and called every number under the list of printers. He couldn’t find anybody to do it, and finally, with persistence and one sympathetic individual, it happened.
“We treated that fabric as the most precious thing,” Mrs. Evelyn remembered. “We didn’t waste an inch of it.”
To have success, no matter what you do, is to just not give up. You’ve got to keep going. There was an instance in those early days when Mrs. Evelyn felt defeat, but Toxey was able to put the next foot forward.
With the help of Mossy Oak’s first salesman and current President of Mossy Oak, Bill Sugg, Toxey was finally able to place that large fabric order. The excitement was quelled when a customer’s order faded to nearly white. There were thousands of yards of fabric and so many orders had already gone out. A camo pattern that turned white could be a huge blow to Toxey’s dream. The printer explained that the last step in the dye process must not have been completed. If the fabric got hot enough, the dye would set.
Mrs. Eveyln and Bill Sugg’s mother took the already sewn clothing to a commercial dryer and frantically heated each item to set the dye. She recalls having to tape their fingers because they were bleeding from the hot fabric. All the tags melted and they had to sew them back in.
“Most people would have given up and Toxey said absolutely not. He had a way of seeing daylight where we couldn’t,” she said. “Strangely, hardly any of that fabric came back to us.”
Designing effective camouflage was the initial goal of Mossy Oak. But for Toxey, he wanted Mossy Oak to symbolize something more than just hunting. He wanted it to represent quality and something to be proud of, an identity. To put on Mossy Oak camouflage means more than just “I’m going hunting.”
For nearly 30 years, Mossy Oak has grown as Toxey’s vision has grown. And through the years the Mossy Oak symbol and patterns have come to represent something unique to everyone who wears it. For Mrs. Evelyn, it represents family – being together and doing something together. Being outdoors is a creative and healthy outlet for children to learn and explore.
VIDEO: MOSSY OAK REPRESENTS FAMILY with Evelyn Haas
“His vision for the company grew as he grew and had his own children to share it with,” she said. “He would like everyone to have that same experience.”
Family and the outdoors go hand in hand for the Haas family. The love of the outdoors was passed down from those that came before. The outdoors was an early love for Mrs. Evelyn as well.
“My daddy was a hunter and fished. There was nothing I loved more than walking in the woods with him. He could tell you every detail about anything in the woods,” she explained.
While Mrs. Evelyn and Mr. Fox influenced Toxey’s love of the outdoors, she also gave credit to extended family members, specifically Toxey’s Uncle Jack. Jack was actually Mr. Fox’s uncle. Mrs. Evelyn happily recalled times that Uncle Jack would take Toxey hunting and fishing, usually during church.
“Toxey would be in tears because he just couldn’t sit still for that long,” she said. “Uncle Jack often took him during the church service to spend time outdoors.”
Community is also an important part of Mossy Oak’s success. The company is headquartered in small town West Point, Miss. Today, Mossy Oak has a large retail location attached to other retail space for a unique and varied shopping experience. But when Mossy Oak was in its infancy, the community really stepped up in support of one of their own aspiring citizens.
Mrs. Evelyn fondly remembered that first Christmas when West Point really got behind Mossy Oak, wives ordering the new camo pattern for their husbands as gifts. Those orders really made the Christmas season a success for the new company. She remembers Toxey making the statement that he couldn’t have had such success anywhere other than West Point.
Mother’s hope to raise successful children, children that become adults that stand for something meaningful. So what’s the secret? In Mrs. Evelyn’s stories of Toxey’s childhood two things stand out: time and freedom. Spend time with them. Involve them in what you’re doing, even if it takes a little longer. And give them the freedom to be who they are. Adjust your way of thinking to fit their personality.
“Go with what they are. When it’s in them, you can destroy it or develop it,” she said. “His daddy was good at that. He wasn’t hard on him or fussing at him. He would just ask, ‘have you learned something?’”
The biggest consequence for Toxey’s misbehavior was not getting to go hunting. “The biggest threat was, ‘daddy won’t take you hunting,’” she said with a laugh. “He was always sweet and fun, he just did things when he thought about them.”
Toxey’s “just do” attitude panned out quite well for him. Even when his mother balked, she still gave him the support, whether it was sewing a fanny pack to match Mossy Oak’s first catalog image or offering a spare room to serve as the first Mossy Oak “warehouse.”
A mother’s work is never done. Mrs. Evelyn and I had to reschedule our first meeting because Toxey was sick. She always makes him boiled custard when he’s sick, so that she did.