Shop Small: The Renaissance of American Independent Eyewear

8:00 AM

This year's Small Business Saturday had me thinking: optometry is full of independent practitioners but for many years we've been providing eyewear designed by large corporations.  Don't get me wrong, I am a fashion world junkie as much as the rest.  But while we can be wowed by designer names on the side of our glasses, we often aren't getting much in the way of true design.  Many large fashion house designers outsource their optical divisions to larger corporations, and that's where you see entities like Luxottica retailing everything from Oakley to Tory Burch and Michael Kors.  Where can you find truly crafted eyewear?  Until recently there was very little going on in America, and the top independent eyewear craftsmen were designing in France, Italy, and Japan.  But in the past few years we've seen a Renaissance in American eyewear design, and in honor of Small Business Saturday, we're featuring 6 reasons that you should shop small for your eyewear this year too!

Were your glasses made by hand? I challenge you to try on a custom crafted pair of eyewear and feel the difference true design and quality can make.  Wonder why your glasses always push dents on your nose or pinch behind your ears?  You don't have to hate your glasses; you just need to invest in quality, thoughtful eyewear design. Photo above via State Optical

Article One Eyewear:
Based in Flint, Michigan, Article One originated as an idea to give back. Designer Wes Stoody was inspired to create an eyewear line that combined luxury craftsmanship with a cause. Every frame purchased donates money to Helen Keller International, a non-profit fighting blindness from vitamin A deficiency in impoverished nations.  To date over 15,000 lives have been touched by their mission.  Right now Article One frames are handcrafted in Northern Italy, but Stoody dreams of bringing production to craftsmen in his hometown of Flint in the future.  You can hear more of his story here.

A bonus for you  Sign up for the Article One newsletter and you'll have a chance to earn a free pair of Article One eyewear and 50% off future orders. This promotion is only open to eyecare providers.


Bevel This Kansas City based eyewear company is the brainchild of opticians Richard Mewha and Rick Nelson, and their mission statement is a bit unusual.  "Neither wants the brand to be the coolest or hottest or most recognizable" states their website, but the focus is on the simple perfection of minimalist ideals: great fit, clean lines, quality materials. Their titanium and acetate frames are designed in America and hand crafted in Japan with a focus on bold colors like the chartreuse used in their graphic brand logo and marketing campaigns. 

Celebrity chef Alton Brown in Bevel frames via

l.a. Eyeworks
Founded in Los Angeles in 1979 by the dynamic duo of opticians Barbara McReynolds and Gai Gherardi, l.a. Eyeworks has made a name in the industry for being loudly and irreverently unique. Their collections feature bold colors and innovative shapes, perfect for the person who accessorizes with eyewear.  Handcrafted in Italy and Japan, their frames can be found stateside and internationally at luxury retailers.


Blake Kuwahara  The celebrated American designer has his own frame line too! His most recent collection features iconic frame-within-a-frame silhouettes that are both fashion forward and entirely wearable.  Cool fact: Dr. Kuwahara is also an optometrist which I think officially makes him the coolest and most fashionable optometrist in history. There should be some kind of prize forthcoming, I'm sure.


Todd Rogers Eyewear
Designed by Boston-based optician Todd Rogers, this eyewear line is a great entryway to American design: flattering frame shapes, excellent price points, and a focus on quality in engineering and design.  Opticians are especially well-suited for eyewear design, coming from a background of having to repair and adjust poorly made eyewear for years. Imagine day after day dealing with patients coming in trying to make badly made glasses fit like a custom made frame.  Tightening here, adjusting there -- it just can't fix bad design.  Thus his brand motto: "Made to Be Worn."

State Optical Co.: Designed in America; Made in America.  State Optical is the only American-made luxury eyewear brand on the market currently, but their success is sparking many American designers to try to find ways to bring production back to the States as well.  Designed by prolific designer Blake Kuwahara, State frames are hand crafted step by step by step (75 in all!) in Illinois. It takes approximately 2-3 weeks to complete a frame, start to finish. For their full story, head here.


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