Forward-thinking eyewear makers are disrupting the industry in the best way
Today's designers are taking sustainability as seriously as they take their style.
Eyewear started to make a major comeback on the fashion scene in the mid-aughts. And with the recent change of creative directors at Gucci in 2015, glasses once again took centre stage on the runways, with fantastical, art-inspired shapes playing the perfect companion to individual style. In 2018, eyewear is now seen as the ultimate accessory to your look. And over the past year, these eyewear brands have proved, in Canada, that doing things their own way is the path to success.
In 2017, a little known eyewear brand really broke onto the scene. Fellow Earthlings, the PEI-based eyewear brand launched by two former eyewear execs, caught the eye of Justin Trudeau, has appeared on vogue.com and has a working relationship with Anna Sui, most recently creating the frames for her Spring 2018 collection. "A little known fact is that Prince Edward Island had a large eyewear factory in the 1980's—Tannereye—that made a lot of amazing product for large brands, from RayBan to Ralph Lauren," Fellow Earthlings co-founder Sydney Seggie said via email from her ocean-side studio.
The brand works with sustainable materials and they are quite nimble, working with clients and customers to help create frames on a turnaround quicker than larger eyewear brands. Their cases are made in Canada from organic cotton canvas and they plan to implement wind and solar power in the near future, to take the studio off the grid.
Sustainability efforts aside, design is still a focal point for these two. "We want the fact that we're made in Canada and made sustainably to be bonus to the fact that we make really great product! We specialize in design and prototyping, short-run production, and custom eyewear," Sigge continued. Up next, their first optical collection and a collection called Stained Glasses, which are made from excess material that would normally be considered waste in manufacturing.
From Montreal to the masses
Sophie Boulanger has always worn glasses. After getting her masters degree while studying in Milan, Boulanger went on to work at L'Oréal for a few years. She also noticed a hole in the eyewear market. "Selling eyewear hasn't changed in decades," she said over the phone from Montreal. "In fashion, you see mono-brand stores, like Zara, H&M. Eyewear didn't follow that trend."
So in 2011, Boulanger launched a digital eyewear platform, bonlook.com, which took out the middleman and brought frames direct to consumers. Since launching, BonLook now consists of 16 stores across Canada, with plans to expand—Boulanger is thinking of growing to 50 stores and also about branching into the U.S. market and beyond.
Aside from creating fashion forward, affordable frames, partnering with influential Canadians (think Coeur de Pirate, aka Béatrice Martin, Maria Qamar aka Hate Copy and figure skater Tessa Virtue) is part of the brand's marketing strategy. They are also keen on keeping the customer informed of their purchase from start to finish. Once you purchase a pair of specs, the brand will send you regular email updates on where your frames are at all times, from your order being placed, to them being sent to the store for pick-up (if you live near a BL location) or when they will reach their final destination, your mailbox.
Bailey Nelson's founders Peter Winkle and Nicholas Perry took their brand from a stall at Bondi Beach's marketplace to a global eyewear brand in just over five years. With outposts in Canada, London, New Zealand and their home country, BN works to provide affordable, well-crafted optical frames and sunglasses to their loyal customers. Each bricks-and-mortar location (they also sell online) contains an in-house optician, as well as a piece of original art from a local artist to help set the tone for the shop, which started when the brand opened their first location in Australia. "As we've grown into a global brand, carrying on the tradition of providing a canvas for local artists to express their vision allows us to celebrate what's unique and relevant to a city," Bree Stanlake, managing director for Bailey Nelson North America said via email.
"We're proud to say that our Mazzucchelli-supplied cellulose acetate is made from 70+% plant- based materials," Stanlake says of the Italian company they get their materials from, "which is in contrast to the eyewear industry at large who manufacture with petroleum-based plastics."
Their footprint in Canada now includes three locations in and around Vancouver, one location in Calgary and the freshly opened Toronto shoppe, which features a custom piece from Katherine MacNaughton as the focal point of the store. "There's an inviting, welcoming atmosphere to our stores that allows the community to explore our collections without pressure."