Manufacturers and consumers are showing increased interest in American-made products. Whether it is political or purely pragmatic, industries that have historically imported goods from overseas, such as eyewear, are now pursuing the re-establishment of a thriving U.S. manufacturing base.
Lowercase, a New York City-based eyewear brand, manufactures its acetate product line at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park. Its cofounder, entrepreneur Gerard Masci, ventured into the eyewear business while on a hiatus from the finance industry, having worked for Goldman Sachs and other firms on Wall Street before deciding to pivot.
Masci partnered with Brian Vallario, a cofounder whose background is in architecture, after meeting through friends and realizing their shared vision. Together, the duo designs Lowercase’s full product line and manages the complete production process from A to Z. The firm’s team of four work from its Sunset Park factory, equipped with machinery imported from Italy and Germany. The manufacturing process for a single pair of frames takes an average of two weeks, as every frame moves through a 30-step progression to create the final product.
The brand officially launched its first collection in January and currently offers seven sunglass frames and six optical frames in an array of colorful, modern, angular-cut styles. “We’re really happy with the quality of the product, aesthetic, production processes and our flow,” Masci told WWD. “We want to be in control from beginning to end, making our designs, with our vision, to the quality standards we have,” Masci said.
Lowercase is self-funded and vertically integrated, allowing Masci and Vallario to oversee every aspect of the company’s manufacturing, production, designs and merchandising. The idea of outside investors posed a threat of compromising the vision Masci and Vallario had in mind for the brand: “We were fortunate that we were able to do [this] between the two of us. I don’t think it could have turned out the same way otherwise,” Masci said.
Acetate is invariably manufactured overseas, which creates a challenge for eyewear brands looking to build full-scale production facilities in the U.S. Lowercase’s acetate comes from Italy, which is known for its niche market of high-quality, six-millimeter-thick raw materials. The company’s eye for unusual acetate combinations delivers a product line saturated with vivid color and intricate patterns. “When I was introduced to [acetate], I was so fascinated. It’s really a craft in and of itself,” Vallario said.
Masci and Vallario were in sync as far as their expectations for quality and taste. Vallario’s practice in architecture lends itself to the angular, sharp-edged styles and “highly curated color palette” showcased in Lowercase’s 2017 collection and is a result of an analytical methodology for design. “Having an approach to problem-solving is really what it comes down to,” Vallario said.
When Lowercase chose Sunset Park as the site of its production facility, the company was wholly unaware of New York City’s intention to create a Made in New York campus in that area. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently revealed plans to open the $136 million campus in 2020, which is intended to be a hub for garment manufacturing, film and television production. The campus will supply more than 1,500 permanent jobs and 800 construction jobs. Fashion industry occupations represent 5 percent of New York City’s work force and the investment aims to promote growth in the sector.
Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development for New York City, said, “We have used our Made in New York brand to grow fashion and film companies and we’re committing some of our most important real estate assets to support them as well. These industries support hundreds of thousands of families with good wages, and they need affordable and modern space to grow. The Made in New York Campus represents the collision of our creative economy and advanced manufacturing. This is going to be a 21st-century working waterfront that keeps our city the capital of film and fashion.”
As one of the first brands to move into Sunset Park with its sights set on Made in New York manufacturing, Lowercase is inadvertently a leader in the city’s initiative. “The model has to be re-thought, but we can absolutely make products locally again,” says Vallario.
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