“When we started, we saw a void in the market for premium handmade optics at an affordable price-point,” said Justin Heit, cofounder and creative director of California-based eyewear brand Raen. Heit founded the independent eyewear brand with his brother Jeremy Heit and their friend Jordan Percy in 2008.
“At the time,” Heit noted, “the trend was large sunglasses with big logos and we had the foresight to see that a more minimalist and well-designed aesthetic was coming. We wanted to create eyewear that our friends would wear and would last.”
The brand’s first collection consisted of five frames, four sun and one optical. Heit said the inspiration early on was a focus on materials and “images of modern architecture, minimal design, negative space and timeless photography.”
High-quality materials are key to the brand’s story, all Raen optics are outfitted with CR-39, a material highly resistant to abrasions, polarized lenses manufactured by Carl Zeiss Vision, and all sun lenses provide 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. The acetate used for frames is the highest-grade cellulose acetate, a plastic originating from the renewable resources of wood pulp and natural cotton fibers.
While the materials used are premium, the prices at retail remain affordable; sun ranges from $135 to $220, with optical ranging from $140 to $180.
Rather than following the trend of the moment, Heit said the brand aims to push itself in terms of design. “We collaborate as a team on all collections,” he said. “Jordan Percy, our design director, manages the process from start to finish, using a product matrix to identify where we need new styles based off of gender, style, face shape and trends. We begin each season with a storyboard and then narrow down the focus based on that product matrix and build out the new styles.”
The brand maintains a core collection called the “Essentials” with a shape assortment of cat eye, rectangle, round and square, while designing new styles and shapes each eyewear season. For fall, Raen introduced metal frames, an updated take on the classic aviator, and a Nineties-influenced acetate assortment, as well as a new frame design that incorporates both metals and acetate.
Social media has helped propel the brand forward; Raen has 77,600 followers on its main account and operates a separate account called “As Seen On,” which chronicles notable names such as Emily Ratajkowski, Wiz Khalifa and Yara Shahidi wearing the eyewear.
“Social media has changed the way that everyone markets. Instagram is the key platform that we use to engage with our customers. We also are constantly in touch with those that tag or reach out to us so we can get real-time feedback,” Heit commented.
The brand doesn’t operate any brick-and-mortar stores, but according to Heit, it has retail partners in 30 countries, including Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. The recently revamped Raen.com spotlights e-commerce, with Heit noting that this year “direct-to-consumer business has grown over 100 percent and we are finding that our target market buys predominantly through their mobile devices.”
“Our goal,” he said, “is to provide timeless, tangible, quality items that function within our active lifestyles and those of our consumers.”