Raen Optics has one foot — or perhaps, in its case, one eye — on the old world and one on the new.
While many firms are growing their businesses based on a direct-to-consumer model, Raen Optics has taken a traditional approach to distribution, building its business first at 500 clothing boutiques and surf stores worldwide before heading to department stores the likes of Nordstrom, where the brand just launched.
But the founders — brothers Jeremy and Justin Heit, who work together at the creative agency Libre Design as well —have capitalized on the rising interest in affordable and timeless styles that has also fueled its online eyewear competition. One of Raen Optics’ bestsellers, Squire, is inspired by eyewear donned by James Dean. Most of Raen Optics’ frames are priced under $150, although it has started a premium line that retails around $300.
“There is a modern classic megatrend. You see it in every restaurant, in bars, in clothing, in automobiles and in eyewear,” said Justin Heit, creative director of Raen Optics, which was established in 2008 in Oceanside, Calif. “We went through what should have been a depression, and I think that has shaped a lot of consumers’ buying habits and their desire for emotional connections. It’s pretty cool to see these new independent brands doing well. It’s just a new time.”
This new time enables new types of fund-raising for emerging brands. Raen Optics utilized CircleUp, a crowdfunding platform that connects upstart consumer companies with individual investors, to raise $915,000 to support its next phase of growth. Additionally, Heit said Raen Optics has secured strategic partners to invest in the brand, but he declined to disclose their names. The funding will go toward increasing production, stepping up marketing efforts and elevating Raen’s international presence. The brand plans to enter 15 countries in 2014.
“In the last three years, we’ve been growing at 100 percent every year. We needed to raise capital to keep up with the demand for production,” said Heit, who noted their women’s frames have been a big boost to sales. The Heits hope to keep that momentum going by releasing a style in collaboration with Abby Brothers for spring next year. “So, one of our friends recommended CircleUp to us, and it goes back into the whole social media, crowdsourcing idea of this new way of doing business…exciting for them and for us. Really, it was a little social experimentation that was successful.”
Although the money may have been raised in a manner that’s cutting edge, the production method it will pay for is decidedly not. Raen Optics’ frames take 120 days to make because they are handmade in Hong Kong instead of manufactured by a faster injection mold process. “The handmade finish is just so beautiful,” said Heit. “We love the traditional way of hand-making. It goes into the modern classic direction that’s the DNA of the brand.”