When it comes to customization, the eyes have it. Just ask bespoke eyewear start-up Topology Eyewear, which — after two seed rounds from the likes of investors such as OPI founder George Schaeffer — is getting ready to reveal another round of funding for an undisclosed amount, courtesy of Canada’s New Look Vision Group Inc.
The deal, which brings Topology’s total raised to more than $13 million, gives New Look Vision an equity interest in the San Francisco-based start-up, as well as the exclusive rights to sell Topology products in Canada. The eyewear chain plans to feature the luxury eyeglasses across its chain, starting with 15 stores in October, followed by a broader launch in early 2020.
“We’re really excited to offer this kind of technology at retail, because we haven’t ever seen this kind of experience,” Michael Tovey, vice president of frames and product development, told WWD. “It almost brings some theater to the retail experience.”
Topology customers 3-D scan their faces using a late-model iPhone — the iPhone X being ideal, with its impressive depth sensors — and then choose and tweak eyeglasses to their preferences. According to the company, its system takes more than 20,000 measurements, down to the millimeter, and adjusts the settings to ensure a completely unique fit.
The approach aims to solve a fundamental pain point for eyeglass consumers: “The interesting thing about the eyeglass industry is that all eyeglasses are mass-manufactured, not [made] for your face,” said Topology founder Eric Varady. “They’re made for someone else’s face. And everything that exists in the industry is all about trying to get you to fit into this product.”
Varady, an engineer with a background in medical devices, took aim at the inaccuracies and inefficiencies rife in the typical eyewear experience. “The friction of shopping for eyeglasses is quite high, where you’re going not once, but usually two trips to a store,” he said. “And no store could possibly carry enough inventory to cater to the diversity of not just face sizes and shapes, but also fashion preferences, materials, styles, colors….So there’s the problem of shopping, and there’s a problem fundamentally with the product. So I saw custom.”
The tech’s accuracy may be best tested by the demanding rigor of optical measurements. A few millimeters off in one direction or another could be disastrous. After all, unlike strappy sandals or a pair of jeans, eyeglasses must perform as medical devices.
Much of this intense attention to detail plays out behind the scenes. What users see in the mobile app are a choice of luxe materials — including Italian acetate or lightweight and flexible stainless steel — color options and a chance to virtually try on the glasses using augmented reality.
At New Look Vision locations, opticians and service personnel will be on hand to guide shoppers through the options using a special iPad app designed for in-store use. Shoppers will also get to check out floor samples.
For George Schaeffer, founder of nail-care empire OPI, the eyeglass business and the nail-care sector share some similarities: “For me, the connection is customization and fashion,” he told WWD. He notes that retailers of all stripes have started leaning into individualization, from cosmetics companies creating blends and formulations for each customer to apparel makers tailoring bespoke clothing.
“Obviously, when I sold nail lacquer for OPI, everyone chose their own color. With eyeglasses, you’re designing it yourself to fit your face,” he explained. “Topology really is [about] the topology of the face.” The best part: The mobile app and AR model helps satisfy instant gratification, with customers being able to see the look right away, at least virtually.
And when the finished product arrives, the company and its investors are betting that consumers will be pleased with the result: A new pair of high-end frames that are individually cut or machined from a solid piece of acetate or steel according to exacting specifications, and then polished. The work happens in Topology’s San Francisco facility in the Mission District, even the inscription of the customer’s name inside the arm of the eyeglasses.
“We’ve been looking at a number of different tech companies and their digital-face mapping,” New Look Vision’s Tovey said, “and for us, Topology really is at the top of the game.
“I think, as technology evolves, you are going to see more and more of this play out,” he added. “It’s really a fusion between technology, precise optical measurement, digital face-mapping and fashion eyewear. It’s a completely unique experience.”
But it doesn’t come cheap. Topology is eyeing the premium end of the business — namely consumers who don’t blink at spending several hundreds of dollars for their progressives or prescription sunglasses, depending on the options. One set of complete glasses rang up to more than $349, while another topped $700.
The expense naturally derives from the deep development of the technology, the materials like imported Italian acetate, the machines, facility and other costs. And it just may make some business sense as well, if it sets consumer expectations that such a pivotal, medically necessary accessory is something worth investing in.