Even though there are eyewear options aplenty online, customers are still clamoring for customization within the category. Along with competitive pricing for high-quality frames — which gave rise to online-only brands such as Warby Parker, Lookmatic and Eyefly — the ability to personalize one’s optical and sunglass frames is poised to become the new normal. From fashion to function, here’s a look at three companies that are putting their own spin on custom.
This story first appeared in the July 29, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Made Eyewear, launched in June by Kevin Hundert, grandson of REM Eyewear founder Gerry Hundert, offers customers thousands of fashion options starting at $84.
“Starting out just being online is a different concept than it was three or four years ago. It’s been proven that you can buy eyewear online, and at this point, it’s time for something new,” said the 25-year-old entrepreneur.
The idea of customization came to him while learning the production process in China. “I began working at REM three years ago, and they shipped me off to China to learn the manufacturing side, where I designed and built my own frames by hand. That got me thinking, ‘Why can’t everyone do it?’ It’s the same concept that Nike and Converse have with shoes. It plays into the concept of having your own style,” said Hundert.
Made’s online ads, featured on sites like Yahoo and people.com, feature full-length and cropped shots of models in colorful clothing, an effort to establish the brand as a young, fun alternative to other brands.
“I’ve found that we get a better reaction from posting a picture taken in a hallway than a million-dollar photo shoot. Everyone can recognize an expensive ad,” he said.
Customers begin by choosing from one of eight frame styles and colors, then choose temple colors, patterns, logos, custom laser-etched text and lenses. With colors alone, there are more than 4,200 possible combinations, and with the other options, the possibilities are seemingly endless — or a number “with at least 600 zeroes behind it,” according to Hundert.
Frames arrive within seven to 10 days of placing the order and are fully refundable for 30 days. “We understand that it may not be perfect once you put it on your face.”
The Made site, like many of its competitors, offers a virtual try-on feature powered by FittingBox FitLive software that allows customers to see what their frames look like on from every angle.
So far, the average purchase has been two different frames or color combinations.
“When people go to retail and glasses are $500 to $600 a pair and they see them here for $84, why not buy two or three pairs?” he said.
Inventory is manageable because the temple fits into every frame style. “If one color or style doesn’t sell well, we don’t have as much inventory, whereas if you have specific sku’s, you’re stuck with them.” Made will offer new colors and styles each season.
Eventually Hundert plans to add brick-and-mortar retail to the mix. “The general understanding is that the brick-and-click concept is really the future; online only is pretty much a temporary business model. I have ideas for mobile retail units, capsule collections, everything ranging from normal to crazy.”
“Customization overall isn’t even a megatrend anymore,” said Roeya Vaughan, global category director for Oakley Custom. “We are definitely seeing it across all industries, and at Oakley it’s gaining momentum. We’ve seen double-digit gains in our retail environment.”
The California-based company has offered customized frames for the last seven years and has been expanding its program organically to the point where half of its eyewear sales are for custom frames. The styles are available online, in Oakley’s 200-plus O stores worldwide and in select wholesale partners like Sunglass Hut.
“We’re giving our customers the opportunity to collaborate with the brand and build something unique to them that meets their performance needs,” she said.
The brand offers customers a choice of frame styles, colors, lenses, icons, temple shapes and sleeves, and decorative plates, as well as custom etching on the lens. There is also a global and Asian fit to address the fit of the nose bridge. While most styles are gender-neutral, some come in modified styles to fit women and youths. In-store customers can take home their glasses the same day, and online orders, which are hand-assembled in Oakley’s Foothill Ranch, Calif., lab for domestic orders (there are also labs in Ireland and Tokyo), arrive within one to seven business days.
The company recently merged its Rx program for optical lenses with its custom program, allowing sunglass styles to be fitted with corrective lenses. The average price point for a custom pair of glasses is about $20 more than regular frames and ranges from $150 to upwards of $300 retail.
“We are just scratching the surface with customization. We see growth opportunity in goggles, apparel and accessories, too,” Vaughan said. While product is key, so is enhancing the customer experience both online and in-store. “It’s also about engagement and custom is going to be at the forefront of building an experience for consumers, giving them more choice and more options. That’s going to be the way to build the brand going forward.”
ADIDAS PERFORMANCE SUN
At Adidas, the customization is focused on fit more than on style. From the beginning of its eyewear program 14 years ago, the sporting goods giant has offered fit-customized Adidas Performance Sun, produced by Austrian eyewear maker Silhouette. All of its styles come in two sizes, with tri-fit temples and lenses that tilt three ways. The standard nose bridges have a double snap, allowing the wearer to adjust either side closer to the face, or extended bridges can be ordered if, say, a customer has extremely long eyelashes and needs the lenses further away from the face.
“We think about taking fit to another level,” said Heinz Pichler, eyewear manager of Adidas U.S. “Since the beginning it has been a sport brand, and we realized the glasses should fit an athlete in a custom way. It’s more costly to inventory, but we feel there is a value to custom-fit sunglasses.”
The frames are made from a lightweight proprietary material called SPX that is durable, temperature-proof and ideal for running, cycling, golf and multisport frames. Prices range from $99 to $300, and the frames are available through Adidas retail and optical partners as well as online.
On the fashion side, the frames are available in multiple color ways, but not in adjustable combinations. The company is currently testing a custom color eyewear program in Europe that it will likely implement in the States as well.
“We see major value in that but want to see how it’s working first,” Pichler said. “We see people wanting more control over making unique eyewear, but in the U.S. we need to focus on making sure people know about our custom fit.”