On the 45th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the intersection of consumer, retail and commerce, I talk with David Barton, the founder of David Kind, an eyewear brand focused on high quality specs at an honest price. David founded the brand after seeing a hole in the market for high end but still affordable direct to consumer eyewear. David Kind prides itself on its online and offline experience and its high quality products.

We had a great talk about David’s career in eyewear, the brand’s founding and how it’s tackling fit and style issues as an online-only brand.  

Check out the full transcript below. 

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 45th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you access to forward thinking research, events and our analysts—so you can capitalize on the new consumer economy. Learn more at loosethreads.com/membership. We also have a newsletter called Ripcord, that highlights one important development each week and helps you escape the noise. Learn more at loosethreads.com/ripcord. Joining me today is David Barton, the founder of David Kind, an eyewear brand focused on high quality specs at an honest price. David founded the brand after seeing a hole in the market for high end but still affordable direct to consumer eyewear. David Kind prides itself on its online and offline experience and its high quality products.

David: [00:00:52] By adding the frame and lens together, by guaranteeing the whole product, by allowing the consumer to choose where they want to receive after cell service, that to me is I think the future, and I think it’s what the optical industry really needs.

Richie: [00:01:05] We had a great talk about David’s career in eyewear, the brand’s founding story, and how it’s tackling fit and style issues as an online only brand. Here’s my talk with David Barton.

[00:01:18] So why don’t we start, talk a bit about your background and we can kind of work our way up to David Kind coming into existence.

David: [00:01:24] I went to school at San Diego State in Southern California, to get a business degree at a school where I could be by the beach, which was important to me at the time. I was into surfing and action sports and that’s what brought me to San Diego, and ended up working for Spy Optic, the sport brand, which was kind of a competitor to Oakley, much smaller competitor in that market. And that’s how I got into the eyewear business. I started going to a lot of trade shows that were eyewear specific, and really kind of fell in love with the fashion meets function part of eyewear. I think it’s probably the only fashion item that’s also a medical device too. So that was fascinating to me. And seeing designs come to life and end up on strangers faces—you’re walking on the streets and say “I worked on that,” that’s pretty satisfying. Fell in love with the eyewear world that way, decided I want to work for Oliver Peoples.

[00:02:12] So I put a resume in without any prompting and just sat on that for a while and then received a phone call from them when Oakley had purchased them. I was working directly with Larry Leight, the founder and creative director of the company, with David Schulte, the CEO at the time, who came in around the same week I came in to Oliver Peoples. Oakley eventually sold to Luxottica, probably a year after I was there. So then there this sort of Oliver Peoples getting absorbed by Oakley and Oakley getting absorbed by Luxottica.

Richie: [00:02:42] Double acquisition.

David: [00:02:42] It was double acquisition, yeah. It was really an interesting time. So I got to see kind of behind the curtain in the eyewear industry and learn from some of the best people when it comes to trend forecasting: shapes, fits of eyewear, what is quality, what isn’t quality. Traveled the world to different eyewear manufacturers, and that’s where I kind of saw how the industry worked. When Luxottica purchased Oliver Peoples I decided that I wanted to keep my hands more on the product. I decided to stay in the U.S., did some consulting for some manufacturers that I’d worked with. So I worked with some great people at some great brands that were looking to have frames produced overseas. And that was my consulting business. Started a business with a friend from Oliver Peoples called KBL Eyewear and we did that for a few years at the wholesale side of the business, and right around that time the online business was picking up, we were looking for distribution. Shelf space at the big retailers is somewhat of a pay-to-play type game where, “Are you in the book? Can you contribute money to the catalog or whatever it is?” So I saw online as a big opportunity, and that’s what really prompted me to do David Kind. So that’s how we started.

Richie: [00:03:54] And so, the previous company was kind of in the wholesale channel, and you were watching something else take off. Were you feel limited by it or…?

David: [00:04:01] Yeah, that’s a good question. So, one of the big reasons was we would have consumers that love specific designs. In the wholesale side of the business, the game is you design a hundred things and pretty much no account will carry more than thirty. So they kind of all cherry pick the collection. You have a few bestsellers, but they all sort of pick different things. We would have customers calling and saying “I went to Barney’s but they didn’t have that frame, can I buy it?” And we were like “Well…” They weren’t too happy with us selling online because they thought it was cannibalizing their sales. So it was sort of this—the customer was not really being—they were being introduced to our brand through a great retailer, but then they couldn’t find the whole collection and they couldn’t buy it how they wanted to buy it. So I saw this opportunity to be more customer centric. It was exciting talking directly to the customers and getting their opinion on the design of the product directly, versus having to design, go to a trade show, show a buyer, get their opinion, they put it in the retail location, and then wait for the customer to actually make the ultimate decision whether they want to buy it or not. It was really exciting to be close to the customer.

Richie: [00:05:00] So, how did David Kind start, and kind of when, leading up to the launch, what were the first things you did to formulate the company and kind of define who it would be?

David: [00:05:08] The collection we did with KBL at the time was a niche brand that was designed to kind of be that contemporary product that was competitive with like a Ray-Ban type brand. That was a very different product than what I ended up doing with David Kind. David Kind was a lot more in the vein of like the Oliver Peoples type product, the Paul Smith spectacles collection—that type of product is what I really loved, and I didn’t see it online. You couldn’t buy those frames with lenses of that quality, of that design aesthetic, that sort of like vintage inspired product, it wasn’t available at that quality online. And I saw other brands doing, you know, kind of mid-to-lower-end product online. And I thought, “Well, the offline side of the business is segmented pretty clearly with the, you know, kind of the entry level brands, the LensCrafters-type product that you’ll find in those stores, and then the premium independent retail product that has more interesting brands like Salt, Barton Perreira, Oliver Peoples, brands like that. So I saw this opportunity to be able to bring that type of product through a seamless purchasing process, through home try-on. And that was really the impetus to launch the brand, was just seeing an opportunity for customers that currently didn’t exist.

Richie: [00:06:22] Talk a bit about the home try-on piece kind of how that came to fruition. How did you think of it what was the hypothesis behind it early on, as a fundamental part of the company?

David: [00:06:34] So we were seeing a lot of like virtual try-on technology before we launched the brand, it was out there. And what we ended up seeing was that you could kind of tell what a frame looked like on you, but you couldn’t make a purchase decision off of it. Next question was “I think it might look good on me, I’d like to try it on.” So we thought, you have to get it into the customer’s hands. We saw other brands with home try-on options, Thought “That’s a great convenient way to offer an entire collection to a consumer on a web site and have the final decision made through home try-on.”

[00:07:01] So we hired opticians, which was something different, because we knew in the offline space, when you walk into a retail store, as an optician, you’re looking at the person’s face, you’re seeing what they’re picking up off the shelf, and you’re trying to help guide them to a product that they are going to want to buy, and that will look great on them. So it’s happening kind of in real time, or, you know, offline. So, the online space that was kind of missing was sort of like a vending machine, you sort of go click around, pick some frames, you try him on, you know, hopefully you did a good job with the frame size, how the shape of the frame fits your face, all of that—which is challenging, it’s not like, you kind of know your shoe size, but it’s really hard to kind of narrow down what your eyewear size is. So we had these opticians to select all six frames for a home try on set.

Richie: [00:07:43] These were opticians on your end, almost like a Trunk Club stylist or something, right?

David: [00:07:47] Exactly, exactly. And actually, Trunk Club, Stitch Fix, those brands were kind of like, you know, an inspiration for having someone help you select products…

Richie: [00:07:55] Digitally.

David: [00:07:56] Digitally. Exactly. But then hiring an optician, who’s a trained expert in fits and prescriptions, we kind of took it to another level there.

[00:08:04] So we picked all six. The customers didn’t like having all six picked for them, they actually wanted to select some frames. So we quickly changed that and iterated that into, “You pick three, as the customer, and then your optician will pick three.” And that actually gave us that extra data point too, where we could really see, instead of just them making general selections on frame shapes, we actually could see exactly what they wanted to try on. So we launched that, and that was a big step for us, because we were providing the customer kind of, something they were used to, and typically when someone comes to the site they’re usually there because a frame catches their eye, and that’s what really gets them started on the home try-on request, so they’re going to try that frame on. But we found very quickly that half of the sales on our site and to today, are from the three frames that the optician selected. And if you’re very good at selecting frames for yourself, usually the optician would select one of those anyhow. So, having 50% of our sales from the optician selected pairs, it reduces frustration on the customer’s part from multiple try ons, reduces cost, because you don’t have to send things back and forth as much, and it was a really big win for us.

Richie: [00:09:10] What does that say about people either knowing or not knowing what they want?

David: [00:09:13] I think people know what they want. It’s just hard to navigate through, you know, all the little subtle things that make a difference in getting you where you want to be. You can say “I like round glasses,” and you can go pick some round glasses, but if they’re slightly the wrong color, or the bridge is a little too wide or narrow, or they’re a little bigger then you might have anticipated they would look on your face, or a little too small, it kind of send you off in the wrong direction. You can correct that really fast in the offline world, you just grab another frame off the shelf and put it on the face. When you’re shipping things back and forth, it can really damage the experience, I think, with the consumer. So, we’re basically correcting mistakes. You know, we’re not trying to convince a customer to buy something they don’t want, but we’re correcting mistakes around—we know they want a round frame, but maybe they’re just picking frames that are a little too big, so let’s get one that’s going to be a little more tailored for their face. Or the prescription info—one of the steps in our home try-on process is you upload a photo of your face so we can see what you look like, and you answer a few questions so we get a general idea of how small or large your face is, what your prescription is roughly like, by answering a few questions. So with that information, and a real optician looking at that and selecting those other three frames, we’re able to really remove a lot of those pitfalls that happen online.

Richie: [00:10:26] You started this company with a home try-on as kind of a founding element. Were you doing this with other people, like what were the first six months of it like, as you’re like “We’re doing this thing.” Leaving old jobs and, then what?

David: [00:10:39] Yeah. I mean, day one, it was pretty stressful. Was anybody going to sign up? We had some initial press, I think it was InsideHook, wrote a newsletter and we started picking up a few little press hits and we had revenue right away, which was pretty exciting. It took a lot of time and money to build up to that point. You know, building product in Japan takes six months on the short end, a year is typically how long and then we multiply that by a number of styles you have to launch with and it takes time. So it was all money out the door, and to see a little bit coming in was pretty satisfying.

[00:11:10] And then the brand storytelling. “Why do we exist in context with, you know other options out there?” started becoming the focus. Once we sort of worked out the kinks with the onboarding funnel for the home try-on, those type of things we sort of worked out over the first several months, after that we started digging our heels into, “Ok, what do we stand for? Why are we different? How do we get our name out there and how do we market this concept” that was gaining traction, but I think everybody wishes it would go faster than it initially does.

Richie: [00:11:39] It seems like brand is increasing more powerful today than just the store, right? Where it used to be you would go to the store in your neighborhood, now it’s you’re going to the brand directly.

David: [00:11:49] Right exactly. So right now the market is the Big-Box and then the independents. The independents are broken down by those that do prescriptions—the optometrists, and then those that either work for those optometrists, the opticians that sell the frames, or they’re brand-owned retail. That separation of those, or working together in a different way, I think is what’s going to be vital. Where the optometrist is compensated for the services provided, and that isn’t tied up into the devices that they’re selling. So then you would have the eyeglasses and the lenses being sold by the brands, the optometrist choosing to either work for those brands, or choosing to run the medical portion of it at more of an arm’s length, and maybe even partnering how we’re partnering up with those, to say that, “You know, hey, this is a small independent in a small town. We have a partnership with them.” Nobody’s opening a retail store in every city across the U.S., so all these little independents, they make up a valuable service to those consumers in their towns, to be able to have them participate in an online sale or direct-to-consumer sale, and then guarantee the after sale service. I think that makes sense, versus having to protect the turf around, you know, “I need to make X dollars off of every frame sold out of my store, and if you buy it online I make nothing, so why should I be doing free services for those purchases?”  

Richie: [00:13:11] If I’m understanding correctly, it sounds like the optometrist will turn into more of the service provider, and the brands will have more of the optician-like value.

David: [00:13:21] Exactly. If you look at it like the, you know, the M.D. versus the pharmacist, something like that, you know where it’s—the best interest of the optometrist is always to provide the best services, and then the pharmacist is the one that gives you the different options on what to buy. It’s I think similar to that, where if you can unhinge those things, then you have brands, and very transparent pricing models with those brands, and those people that are helping you select the frames. I think it becomes very transparent and then it becomes equally transparent with the optometrist.

Richie: [00:13:53] Gotcha. So the pharmacist is the optician, the doctor is the optometrist?

David: [00:13:57] Right. Exactly.

Richie: [00:13:58] Right, so you’re decoupling the diagnosis from the prescription?

David: [00:14:02] That’s right.

Richie: [00:14:03] That’s very interesting. So, ok, you launch the company, it’s four years old today, how would you summarize each year as a milestone almost, or kind of, what happened during one, two, three and then we’ll work our way up to the present.

David: [00:14:15] The very first year was optimizing what we had made, especially from the digital side of it. The product side of it hasn’t changed too much since we launched. High quality design to kind of look like it’s a tailored fit, very classic design. That’s been the same since the beginning. The digital footprint changed quite a bit. “How do we get these frames in people’s hands? How do we make it easier for them to select?” That was your one, basically, it was primarily that. Year two was, “How do we grow?” You know, you have to kind of get to a scale to be able to hit minimum order quantities with factories and all of that. So that was really year two, we focused on, “How do we find a consistent customer acquisition channel and get to a scale where this becomes like a viable ongoing business?” That was year two.

Richie: [00:15:00] So I guess I’m curious, what was the goal when you started, from a longevity kind of growth perspective? And then what were some of those, I guess, discussions or processes internally that helped you kind of find your way, so to speak, or realize what you wanted the company to be?

David: [00:15:16] Initially it was to be the premium alternative to other options online. You know, which was very familiar, with Oliver Peoples and those type of companies, that there is a group of consumers that are willing to invest in quality product, and to look at online is just that option for them. That is still kind of a core tenant of what we’re doing, but how quickly those consumers are defecting from offline to online has been really what we’ve been focusing on solving right now. The online space in eyeglasses is still, depending on who you talk to is 3-5%, something like that, which is lower than other categories. So we’ve been focusing, as of late, on trying to get closer to the prescription, which you need to be able to purchase a pair of glasses, whether that’s eye doctors, or eye care professionals, whether it’s in-office eye exams, things like that that are gaining some momentum. We’ve been working on that, possibly doing some retail of our own. So, really kind of getting closer to that prescription, solving problems around vision insurance. You know, things like that that can often drive people back to the retail setting offline. That’s what we’ve been focusing on lately.

Richie: [00:16:29] I think generally a lot of the focus on eyewear is on the aesthetic frame—all of this. This tension between an aesthetic device and a medical device I think is quite interesting, and I’m curious to talk more about kind of how you started to go down this path of getting into the more mechanical, less visible stuff, that is maybe essential to making the product and the brand successful. How did that start to happen, and I guess how did you kind of navigate it, or build the expertise needed to go into a more scientific route than, you know, a company that’s just making frames?

David: [00:16:58] The first reason why people buy glasses is because they need them. And then it’s “I want these to look great on me.” And then after that it’s all the technical part of it. Which usually, in the offline world, the doctor or optician handles. Online, it’s a lot more self-service, I guess, than it has been. So, from the very beginning, we really wanted to bring in that optical expertise, and we did. It was kind of under-the-surface, but then we started pushing it in front of the customer more in the last couple of years, because to be able to carve out our own kind of space in the market and the online market, there’s a lot of education that’s involved. And most of that is around the lens quality. Because at the end of the day you want to see as clearly as possible. And that’s probably one of the biggest areas where the eye care professionals will warn against online. I mean there’s been studies done by American Optical Association around, half of the online eyewear comes with some sort of a defect, or is done incorrectly or something like that. So that’s probably one of the reasons why the defection from offline to online has been so slow. So, we’re kind of combating that by talking a little bit more about the things we’ve done to solve those problems.

[00:18:07] So, like our patent around frame lens measurements has been a key part of that. That’s where you put a pair of glasses on, through the home try-on, you take a photo at arm’s length, and, using that photo, we’re able to pinpoint exactly where your pupil falls into the lens, and then we’re able to take your measurements using that photo, very similarly to how it would be done offline. So, people—I think it starts building a level of trust. We’re able to capture some of the more difficult prescriptions. We get those clients, they’re likely to refer us, because we solved a problem that another online company couldn’t.

Richie: [00:18:43] How do you show the value of that to a customer? Right, because it’s a very kind of technical behind-the-scenes thing, but it has this very practical application. So how do you balance that between, I guess the brand building, and kind of the functionality building that makes the whole thing holistically valuable?

David: [00:19:02] Again, we really lead with the frame design and finding that perfect fit. And fit is a big part of, you know, why a frame looks great on you. And then the undercurrent is we have opticians that will help guide you through the rest of the purchase process and filling the prescription, which is kind of how it works offline. That’s really kind of how we’ve done it, so it’s this consistent undercurrent, we use optician repeatedly. We started out as stylist, you know, based, but it really became optician. Because some customers want help finding a particular pair of glasses, stylistically. Others know what they’re looking for and just kind of want to be guided to that look with the support of an optician, so they know that they’re going to get the best vision they possibly can. We constantly push the optician side of it. The human aspect, the high touch aspect of it, and that we’re leveraging this technology, this patent, to be able to help that optician do that type of a service in this sort of virtual way.

Richie: [00:19:58] And so how does that communication happen, like what’s the method?

David: [00:20:00] It’s a lot of e-mail. Part of the home trial we’ve been optimizing our web site to have more information around how we do it—we need to do more in that world. Maybe video is probably a good way to get the point across for the people that don’t read. A lot of people, I think, click through things really fast.

[00:20:15] Once the try-on set is requested, we’re very methodical about how we send emails through the home try-ons, where we explain how the measurement photo works and usually the interest level from the consumer around “How are you going to do my prescription?” is significantly more once they’ve found a pair of glasses. A lot more research is done online than purchasing is done, so we’re focusing on trying to convert more of those consumers to attempt to purchase online, that maybe would have just found a frame and then tried to buy it through their doctor’s office. So it’s really like, “OK let’s get the home try-on set out and let’s really try to, kind of convert the sale based around that education at that point.”

Richie: [00:20:54] So going back to the longevity expectations game, talk a bit about kind of, I guess, a process of thinking through the investor side and why you didn’t go that route, and kind of, what did you come out with to say “This is who we want to be in the future, and this is how we’re going to build to get to that point, or to keep that path going”  

David: [00:21:12] When I was pitching this there was a big, there is a big player in the marketplace, and it might have been the sort of Kleenex for online eyewear, like it just—it will become this ubiquitous brand. And there were some investors willing to put money into competitors, but there was so much momentum behind that brand that it was pretty difficult to tell a story that would be different enough, where it could pull away their investment from something else, or into that brand. And a few where we were pretty close to pulling capital into the business early, I actually did pitch venture capital, I kind of went down that route and I had a lot of meetings, and it was a great learning experience, but it was, I think, a time where it was hard to get that type of investment in, due to the momentum of particular brand.

Richie: [00:21:56] Can we say it was Warby?

David: [00:21:57] Yes, it was Warby.

[00:22:00] I was already putting my own cash into the business, putting money on credit cards and everything I need to do to get our first collection going, so it wasn’t like a software thing that I could build a prototype and like “didn’t raise a bunch of money, so I’ll just move on to the next thing,” it was “I’m off and running, I have glasses that are coming, you know this is expensive.” It kind of changed the mentality around the brand from being this bigger play, to something that was more of a problem to solve for the clients that I knew, either personally or were actually out there looking for something like us that didn’t exist. So, it really kind of shrunk what I was thinking of as far as the size of the business and what it could be.

Richie: [00:22:39] I’m curious you talked a bit about price point and I guess like, product quality. Where did you want to land on that, what were the goals there, and kind of, what did it take to deliver that?

David: [00:22:47] So I left Spy, that way kind of mid-level product, and then moved into Oliver Peoples and Paul Smith, and I got exposed, over those years, to the premium level. And that was really, at that point, all I was interested in.

Richie: [00:23:02] Why?

David: [00:23:03] I was always on the product side of it, and you could see the experience, the design, you know, everything starts with a sketch and you’re kind of visualizing how the product would turn out in the end. And, partnering with a skilled manufacturer and the craftspeople that work for those manufacturers will allow you to realize that design at a level that you were envisioning, and you always want to make it as best as you can. That was always the only choice, was to go to the best manufacturing. I was so used to the more corporate decisions that were made, where it’s always like, trying to eke out a little bit more margin out of something and you always make design decisions, you know, that are kind of based around optimizing your margin. My goal was to go to the best manufacturers, execute the design to the highest level, and then go direct to consumer, so we could make it a more attainable product, and didn’t have to cut those corners that I was used to doing at the bigger companies.

 

Richie: [00:23:58] What are some of those corners that get cut? And then what are the effects of those, that you did not want to do?

David: [00:24:03] Longevity of product, subtle detailing. One of the things with the Paul Smith collection, in his apparel collection, is all these little details for the wearer, things make you fall in love with that purchase over time—things you discover, you know, weeks into the purchase, or even longer. So, little details on the hinge, custom hinges, custom core wires, the kind of no-slip lines that are put on the temple tips, these are all things that are—you can buy an off-the-shelf hinge,you can buy an off-the-shelf core wire (the little piece of wire that runs through the temple), you can remove some of these design details that are expensive to produce, and aren’t really perceived immediately by the customer when they’re making their purchase, but over time, like Paul Smith, when you have the different colored pocket lining, or just a beautiful stitching on the inside of the jacket, versus just the silhouette—those were things that I wanted to keep in the product that would make you fall in love with it over time. And then also, the quality of the finishing would allow that product to last longer as well. Japanese acetates a bit harder than the Italian acetates, so it tends to hold the shape a little bit better. The manufacturers that work on that product, and I learned by seeing it firsthand, how the frames are formed—they tend to hold their shape a lot better. So it’s a product that just last longer.

[00:25:20] When you go to a vintage store, which I used to do, as a place to get inspiration, you know, go into these shops and see what kind of product was done in the past and maybe where we would go today, you see these frames that are relevant in some cases to wear now, because they’re made so well. You don’t see that as much as you start cutting corners and not producing at the top level.

Richie: [00:25:39] What’s been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned over the last four years building this company?

David: [00:25:45] The cheapest is to ask the customer, they’ll tell you if you ask them directly. And it’s free. The most expensive was spending in the beginning like we were going to be the upmarket answer to the mid-market brand that was there, but without the market really ready to embrace that, that was the most expensive. So a lot of money spent on advertising that I wish I had back.

Richie: [00:26:09] Gotcha. How did expectations change around time horizon? Given you’d spent time working on brands, what did you expect it would take to start this thing or get it to a point that you wanted to, and how has it changed now in terms of how you look at the life cycle, or time horizon of what it is you are building?

David: [00:26:28] The reason why I didn’t do a brick and mortar in the beginning was because it’s not that scalable, versus online. I mean, we’re only in the US due to home try-on shipping, things we don’t really do overseas. But it was accessible to everybody in the U.S., that was always the intention. But the building of the brand, I think it’s really built around like, communities of people. So even though we’re accessible around the U.S., we’re focusing on building smaller groups of people that will share what we’re doing. And then still retaining that ability to be more available than if we were solely in like brick and mortar.

Richie: [00:27:05] And then you mentioned before, are you looking at doing more brick and mortar stuff?

David: [00:27:09] Yes, but in a different way. We’ve been very careful since the very beginning to not alienate the eye care professional. You know, there’s a lot of “cut out the middleman” type stuff and a lot of these direct-to-consumer brands. We’ve really tried to keep that door open, as much as possible. So we’re actually partnered up with a doctor in New York, and he has another location in New Jersey that has our collection. And we basically provide the collection to that doctor, they provide it as an option to their patients, if that patient chooses to go our route, than we’re paying a dispensing fee to that doctor, and that guarantees the patient after-sale service. So, there’s sort of like, a trust that has been broken between the doctor and the patient, where, if you buy online, unless you go to that particular brand store, there isn’t a lot of after-sale support and there’s only, you know, so many of those stores in certain markets, where, by what we’re doing, we’re partnering with these particular doctors that have that trust built with that patient, they’re able to participate, they can do a home try-on, they can buy the glasses through our website and it still guarantees them the after-sale service. So I think there’s a lot there that we’re working on to grow our brand and to get closer to that prescription.

[00:28:23] Retail, I would love to do a flagship in Southern California. I think we’re getting a lot closer to that. The doctor route takes some time; build the relationships,m open those doors. But it’s another challenge. One of the reasons why this direct-to-consumer was so interesting, getting closer to the customer, I still strongly believe in being able to communicate directly with that consumer, and that’s something that I want to do in the near future, is open a flagship. We have a showroom here in our office in L.A., but I want to get out a street, that you can capture that walk-by, traffic you have basically a billboard that, you know, I hope pays for itself.

Richie: [00:28:58] Is the doctor model somewhat akin to wholesale or—have you done wholesale at all or no?

David: [00:29:04] Very little. We work with Black Optical in our sunglasses, our non-prescription sunglasses. And there is a great, well respected retailer, Durants Sessions in Vancouver just for that, you know, sunglass product, and then Deus Ex Machina here in Venice, we’re selling through them. So, a little bit, but just non-prescription sun. I have not done wholesale with the optical product at this point.

Richie: [00:29:25] And how do you differentiate not doing wholesale, versus working with some optometrists, like what’s the call there?

David: [00:29:30] The interesting thing about David Kind and the direct to consumer online brands is you have a frame and a lens that’s put together for the prescription product. It’s not that way with typical wholesale brands. You have a frame, and then you sell it to the office or retailer, and then the lens is assembled into that frame by the salesperson there. We’re providing the frame and lens combination and we’re able to more seamlessly stand behind the experience for the consumer. From my days at Oliver Peoples, you sell the frame to the optician. The optician then becomes, once they purchase that frame, they become your sort of final destination for any sort of after-sale service or problem or anything like that.

[00:30:11] And I think today, and I think increasingly, the consumer expects to be able to rely on that brand as much as they do that retailer. Instead of doing direct wholesale, by adding the frame and lens together, by guaranteeing the whole product, by allowing the consumer to choose where they want to receive after-sale service, no matter where they live, I think is much more interesting for them. They can choose to go back to the place that they purchased and get that service, and it’s guaranteed because we’re working closely with that location, or they can go directly to us, and we know what lense is in there, we can serve that consumer the same as if they purchase directly through our website. That, to me, is like, I think, the future, and I think that’s what the optical industry really needs, to be able to kind of bridge the gap between online and offline, is that type of relationship. And wholesale, I think it’s too arm’s length, if it was just pure wholesale—very traditional, you could grow fast, you know, done right, it’s very competitive, not a lot of innovation happening there. I think that doing it the way we’re doing it is really the future.

Richie: [00:31:14] What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about eyewear?

David: [00:31:18] My favorite thing about eyewear is it’s one of the first things you see, fashion or accessory wise, on a person. You’re communicating face-to-face. So your glasses, you have an opportunity to make a great first impression, or not. And I love it when people get compliments on their glasses and when they fall in love with them, because it adds to their personality and their personal style. That I love, especially when you’ve had a hand in drawing it up from the very beginning and getting it produced. The least favorite?

Richie: [00:31:46] You could also do most challenging.

David: [00:31:49] The most challenging is honestly the technical aspects of it. Because you just want it to work. Some people, that’s less challenging than others. Difficult prescriptions can be a bit challenging for people, and frustrating if they can’t buy the pair of frames that they want. It can be a bit challenging to kind of educate them on what will be appropriate for that particular prescription.

Richie: [00:32:12] Are contacts a threat to the business?

David: [00:32:15] That’s a good one. So they said when contacts came out, that was the end of eyeglasses. They said and Lasik came out, that was kind of eyeglasses. Still, the eyeglass business is growing. So, no, I don’t think it’s a threat. There are so many choices now. You have Lasik, you have contact lenses, you have glasses. So I think people kind of look at eyewear as an accessory and a fashion choice, than something you got stuck with. And I think that’s different. I think people are embracing it. You know, it can add to your personal style, your personality. Yeah. I don’t think they’re going anywhere.

Richie: [00:32:49] Would you expect I eyewear to become more aspirational focused or more utilitarian in the future?

David: [00:32:55] Both. I was talking to an optometrist who said that the myopic patients that need glasses to be able to read has increased something like 25% in the last twenty years. And they say all the digital devices and everything that you’re looking at—I don’t know I haven’t looked into it, if it’s actually your eyes are being challenged enough to have to wear a corrective device, or if it’s just, you rely so much more on technology in processing information today than ever before, that it’s getting prescribed more, because you need that corrective device to be able to, you know, compete at the speed and the different, you know, jobs people are doing today. So, I think more people are wearing glasses, and I think it’s because they’re processing more information.

Richie: [00:33:40] In this model, given you’ve talked a lot about the benefits of having optometrists on your side, other companies too—Warby is one of them, that have started to hire a lot of people, I assume they are optometrists working in the stores, and stuff like that—would you expect that at a macro level there will be more optometrists working for brands, than they will be working for retailers or themselves? Like do you see that as a shift almost?

David: [00:34:02] Yeah, in some ways, I do. I think there will be a separation of the services and the products that are being sold. There are, like, legalities around—and state by state it can change—on whether or not a optician who dispenses the glasses can hire the optometrist who does the prescription, or vice versa. There are some protectionist laws where the optometrist has to employ the optician, versus the other way around, and we’re optician’s, we’re not optometrist’s, so we don’t do the prescriptions.

[00:34:30] And then there’s disruptive technologies like Opturnitive. I know Warby is working on something very similar to theirs, where, what happens if you can get the exam without having to visit the optometrist? There’s a lot of interesting things and we talked to the optometrists that we work with about this, and, done responsibly, it could be great, it could be really beneficial to the consumer. Done irresponsibly, it could cause problems. So, I want to lean in to the customer advocate part of the optometry profession, versus the protectionists part about, you know, margins and things. I think we’re going to see some really interesting stuff over the next five years and I’m excited to be a part of it somehow. I mean, our goal is to make the highest quality frames and lenses and have the most seamless transaction for you to be able to get those in your hands, wherever you want to do it. I want to help enable any good idea that isn’t, in the long term, detrimental to the patient.

Richie: [00:35:22] Awesome. Thanks so much for talking.

David: [00:35:24] Thanks a lot Richie. Appreciate it.

Richie: [00:35:33] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. Sign up for Ripcord at loosethreads.com and feel free to leave a review on iTunes. We always appreciate it. Thanks to George Drake Jr. for editing this episode. I really enjoyed talking with David about his brand’s approach, and how it’s merging the online and offline world for a product where fit and comfort really matters. We have a great roster of upcoming guests, including Ariel Kaye of Parachute Home, Vanessa Stofenmacher of Vrai & Oro, and Jonathan Shokrian of MeUndies. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.