If you bought a pair of frames from the Brooklyn Flea in 2010, you might have met Andrew Lipovsky. He was there selling six styles of eyewear in only two colors—a prudent selection, but with a purpose: Lipovsky was treating the Flea go-ers as a focus group for his new eyewear company, learning what customers were looking for and what they were most excited about. “It happens to be education and we were also being paid for it because people were buying some of the product,” Lipovsky tells DuJour. It was the same year Warby Parker came on the scene to sell prescription eyewear directly to customers, but Lipovsky and his partner, Richard Ray Ruiz, had another idea in mind.
“I had this revelation when I walked into my closet—and I care about the way I look and the things I wear—that all my favorite brands didn’t make any eyewear whatsoever,” says Lipovsky. “Brands like Theory, J.Crew, Rag & Bone, Band of Outsiders, A.P.C., Steven Alan… None of them made eyewear, so we began to think about why.” Lipovsky turned to one his friend’s fathers, an optometrist and one of Luxottica’s top salesmen, to get a grasp for how the eyewear market works. He learned that Luxottica, along with Safilo, owns most of the optical landscape and, under license, makes eyewear for Prada, Miu Miu, Tory Burch, Stella McCartney, Chanel, Ralph Lauren—the list goes on. Small to mid-size brands didn’t have the same opportunity.
“It was too complicated and expensive to do a thoughtful, small-scale line,” says designer Steven Alan. “There were only big factories and too many middlemen complicating the process to manufacture exactly what we wanted. We were looking for a quality product with more options that weren’t available to us before.” Which is exactly where Lipovsky and Ruiz’s company, Eponym, comes in.
“What we realized was if you’re a brand and you want to make eyewear, you can’t make it yourself,” says Lipovsky, “and the reason is it requires a core competency that’s outside of what you have. Brands are really good at design and building this great lifestyle, but they’re not great at making something that’s 100% functional, something that’s 100% medical.” With Eponym’s help, Steven Alan launched an optical line this spring. It takes a team of 10 to 12 people at Eponym to work with the brand and design the eyewear, manufacture them, engineer an e-commerce website and deliver it to the customer. They also train the brand store staff on how to sell the eyewear, so if you go to Stephen Alan’s shop in Chelsea or Tribeca, you can try on the glasses, and a store associate can help you purchase the eyewear on the spot. Beyond all this, Eponym has a bigger goal in mind.
“What we’re trying to do is actually shorten the replacement cycle on glasses and try to make them true accessories,” says Lipovksy. He explains that “three years ago, people would only buy one pair of glasses once a year or once every two years, but you would have five pairs of jeans and six pairs of sneakers that you really love. But glasses are super difficult to buy. You’d have to go back to your eye doctor, and the designs only changed twice a year. So we’re going to have releases that happen almost every month to get people really thinking about it, because it’s something you wear everyday and all day compared to other accessories that get that type of usage.”
And besides the obvious fact that frames are becoming more of a wardrobe piece, Lipovsky, whose own prescription is mild enough to wear glasses as an accessory, believes it’s just a smart move for brands. “Three-quarters of Americans need glasses, so the market need for the product is really big. If you’re a brand like Steven Alan and you’re making really beautiful shirts, pants and outwear, then you’ve got a customer base that’s already wearing glasses. It’s kind of a natural progression to offer your client base a product that they already need. There’s no reason that the Steven Alan customer should be wearing Prada glasses—unless they want to, of course.”