MILAN — Strangely enough for an influencer with more than 370,000 followers on Instagram, Carlo Sestini has always liked a little bit of mystery.
He cited this trait as one reason he was spurred to launch his sunglass label last summer. “You know how it’s said that the eyes are the window to one’s soul? Well, I’ve always liked sunglasses because you can hide behind them, yet you can still see the others very well. So I never leave my house without them, even when it rains,” he said.
Sestini was living in London when the pandemic hit last year and he quickly decamped from the U.K. to return to his homeland, specifically to Tuscany, where he had to adjust to a much quieter lifestyle. This didn’t stop his projects, especially the launch of a label that took him two years to develop.
“It was like I had to give birth to this brand for a long time so I wanted and needed to go ahead, even with a pandemic going on,” he said, revealing that the debut was scheduled for last March but was delayed by five months.
The change of pace set by the health emergency and his calmer Italian surroundings also made Sestini reevaluate the importance of time itself, a notion he instilled in his brand. “At the end of the day, it’s the time it takes to realize a product and do it well, that makes it important. That’s why for me it’s always going to be about quality over quantity,” he said.
Hence, Sestini developed an eyewear collection in a limited edition, handcrafted in Italy by local artisans. More interested in timeless classics than trend-driven designs, he focused on a tight lineup of three unisex shapes, including two aviator styles and a thick, squared option, all complemented by Zeiss lenses.
Simply named “Uno,” “Due” and “Tre” — as the first three numbers in Italian — the models are offered in 300 pieces each and available in three color alternatives.
Having converted to a vegan lifestyle himself and specialized in business sustainability management at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Sestini committed to make the brand green, aiming to implement a circular economy by 2025. For example, all styles are crafted from recycled acetate with metal nose pads instead of plastic ones.
Packaging is part of sustainability, too. “I always thought I would have velvet boxes because I thought they conveyed that sense of luxury, but then I found out that velvet is super polluting. So we opted for recycled paper treated with a laminating technique that replicates the same effect,” he said.
Along with the lens cloth, the sunglass pouch is made from recycled plastic bottles and colored with natural dyes. To make it multipurpose, Sestini added to the pouch a credit card holder and an interwoven strap that doubles as a lanyard or bracelet. He also partnered with One Tree Planted to plant a tree for every pair of sunglasses sold.
Retailing at between 315 euros and 365 euros, the sunglass collection launched on the brand’s e-commerce site, later rolling out to LuisaViaRoma and Level Shoes in Dubai. On the first day, the Sestini Eyewear website crashed due to the strong demand, leaving the founder impressed. After that initial spike, purchases evened out over time.
“I imagined we would have sold everything right away, but then I realized that eyewear is not like apparel, each face is different. So people needed to try the styles on,” noted Sestini, who acknowledged the luxury price positioning as an element that makes potential customers more cautious.
Also for this reason, the brand introduced an Instagram filter to enable consumers to try on the styles, a decision that proved strategic both in terms of sales and in enabling the brand to track preferences and gather information on potential customers. “For instance, a style I believed could work more with a female audience turned out to be the one picked most by male consumers,” the founder observed.
According to Sestini, the key elements eventually drawing customers to the brand are its niche positioning and its discreet aesthetics.
“Customers decide to buy this type of product because they like Made in Italy, sustainable luxury sunglasses and, most of all, are not interested in logos,” he said, highlighting the lack of flashy branding in favor of subtle lettering at the end of the temples or an “S” engraved inside the joint of the frames.
“They appreciate the brand being niche, understated and with a heightened attention to details,” continued Sestini, underscoring that he wanted to offer “something timeless that could be passed down from generation to generation, like a watch.” This approach marks a point of difference compared to more trend-driven and accessible eyewear collections developed by fellow influencers, ranging from Karen Wazen to Chiara Ferragni.
So far, Sestini Eyewear has especially resonated with the United Arab Emirates market, which accounts for 60 percent of sales, followed by Germany and the U.S., representing 25 percent and 15 percent of sales, respectively.
Being an influencer for the last three years, Sestini worked with the likes of Salvatore Ferragamo, Tom Ford, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Bulgari. From his experience with these brands, he said he has learned the importance of details and of a made-to-measure approach.
These lessons inspired future developments for his label, as Sestini revealed that his ultimate dream is to open a selection of stores in key locations, offering only a made-to-measure service to meet all customers’ needs and preferences but with sustainable solutions.
This would mark a return to his origins for the influencer, who recounted going to vintage stores in Florence hunting for eyewear pieces and customizing his purchases by dissembling parts of different sunglasses to create new, personal styles. “I used to take the temples of old Cartier sunnies and mount them on Versace frames, or change the color of lenses frequently. I really enjoyed the process and always wanted something unique, that others didn’t have,” he said.
In the meantime, Sestini plans to expand his offering independently from seasonality, dropping new styles “only when it’s right,” including possible capsule collections created with retailing partners.
To this end, the influencer is committed to limiting the number of stores that carry the line to avoid the overexposure and maintain its niche quality, and he is in talks for a targeted rollout in Italian luxury resort destinations in Sardinia as well as in Portofino and Capri.
Preserving the small scale of the brand, he’s additionally looking at flanking the eyewear with a range of ’70s-inspired bathing suits and linen shirts, creating a summer kit that exudes “La Dolce Vita” vibes. The move would enable him to introduce more approachable pieces, as he forecast the bathing suits will be priced from 100 euros to 120 euros and shirts at 180 euros.