A contemporary eyewear line to meet new needs

Author: Clodagh Norton

Interview of the Month
October 14, 2020

Kenmark Eyewear introduced their independent in-house Paradigm label in 2019, with the aim of creating “something of their own”: a different and diverse collection that fits a wide variety of faces, ages, and personal styles, as well as a brand story that encourages consumers to shift their views on basics, material quality, accountability and style.

\ Mallory Fagan - Creative Manager; Jason Wehlage - Director of Product and Design; Marissa Cundiff - Marketing Director; Laura Howard - Designer

Q: Kenmark’s portfolio of international brands include the new independent line Paradigm launched in 2019. What was the thinking behind this launch?

A: MF: We really saw a white space in the marketplace for an eyewear line with good quality, trendy basics at an affordable price. We were seeing a variety of those sorts of brands from online vendors and we wanted to give optical shops the opportunity to capitalize on the growing trend, capturing those sales.
JW: We wanted to create a cohesive initial collection with the target of being inclusive to all, so everyone can find a frame that fits them and represents their personality. With a focus on the line interpreting a lightweight feel and mirroring that ideal in look, we opted to create the styles from thin-gauge stainless steel and High-Density acetate. The translucent bases of the acetate, when paired in combination with the stainless steel really aided in accomplishing this goal.

Q: How has the collection been received, and do you find it has had a particular appeal in particular regions or with a particular customer base?

A: MF: The initial launch really went even better than we had hoped for. We set a goal for ourselves and we far surpassed it—so it was a pleasant surprise! That just validated how much of a need there was for this type of product.
JW: The market has been warm to embrace both the look and identity of the brand from the outset. Providing an amazing product at a price point that provides incredible value not only to the opticians, but end customers as well, the formula came to fruition. Ultimately, the initial success is humbling and burns the fire in us to continue to cultivate both the brand and product going forward.
MC: The collection has been so well received. We feel so proud of what we created, and it keeps us motivated to continue creating and pushing ourselves. When you create something from scratch – brand, story, product, just everything, it can be a bit nerve wracking to see if people are going to love it as much as we do. We’ve seen people from all over, even celebrities, wearing the product – it’s really awesome to see how it resonates with so many diverse people, it’s really wanted we wanted to see happen.

Q: Can you explain the importance of the social/ethical focus of the brand’s philosophy – embodied in the line – Shift your view.

A: MF: From the get-go we prioritized how to make this brand something our customers would be proud to support. Too often the status quo in the eyewear industry is generic designs, low quality product and overlooking important ethical concerns and sustainable practices. So, focusing on these areas, we set out to shift the narrative, reframing your expectations of what an eyewear company should be about. All the materials we use are sourced from the best suppliers in the industry, and our original eyewear is designed and manufactured with a focus on superior craftsmanship. Plus, from providing workers a fair, living wage to reducing our environmental impact, we’re committed to the highest ethical standards at our own company and every company we work with.
LH: As with many other product categories, especially those under the fashion umbrella, there is less of a hard line now between who can wear what. We’ve embraced that mentality for this collection and the majority of it is designs to be unisex or un-gendered. We’ve also taken care to have an array of colours in every style that will pair with different skin tones and we’ve made sure to include styles with nose-pads for an adjustable fit. We really just want someone of any skin colour, face shape or gender to find a frame in this collection that makes them feel good.
JW: It not only applies as the tagline for the brand, we wanted to nurture this ethos in creating the product as well. As Laura said, there is no definitive label on who can wear what. But also in how the product is constructed. Many opticians are set on “screw in nosepads”. Well, ‘Shift your view’ on that. We’re utilizing one of the thinnest and softest silicone “plug in” nosepads on the market from Frey & Winkler. Not only because it best fits with the overall aesthetic, but we need to move past the thinking of frames having to be constructed a certain way, just because.

Q: The difficulties of 2020 continue, and cancellations of trade fairs make it very hard to launch new products at an international level. How is Kenmark faring in this difficult climate and what are your priorities this season?

A: MF: From the get-go we prioritized how to make this brand something our customers would be proud to support. Too often the status quo in the eyewear industry is generic designs, low quality MF: COVID-19 has certainly changed things. With our sales force primarily working from home, we’re seeing zoom appointments and phone calls instead of the usual in-person sales calls. As shops begin to open up and are seeing our consultants, our team is wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and using good hygiene to keep our customers safe. Since touching and handling the frames could mean spreading germs, our consultants are now eyewear models too! We’ve offered several online promotions and seen an increase in our digital sales there. It’s been extremely important for us to stay available by remaining very active in social media and ramping up efforts there. Fortunately, we have seen a steady uptick in sales over the past few months which is an encouraging sign that people are back in the shops and seeing patients.
JW: As with everyone, we have had to delay many new model releases. But this time has also given us a moment to deeper analyse where we want to go moving forward and how we want to get there. Ultimately, slowing everything down a bit has allowed everyone to reflect on excess and realize going forward, there just isn’t the need of such rapid consumption of un-necessary items. People will be looking to find value in goods that can last, and we will be here to satisfy that need as we move toward the future.
MC: While this has been a really challenging time for us, it’s given us time to pause and reflect on what we’re doing, how we’re putting things out, and how we’re advertising and getting in front of our customers. In marketing it’s really required us to connecting more directly with the customer and meet their needs – not only from supplying with product, but really being there for them and helping them in so many other ways to help ensure they stay strong as they navigate during this time. We’ve had a big shift in digital; it’s always been key for us, but we’ve seen a huge increase in online ordering and have shifted a lot of special promotions and emphasis to our website and social media. There have been a lot of quick progressive changes, which I think is great in a lot of ways, and it’s allowed us to really be there in new ways for our customers – such as helping with social media or finding new ways for them to view product.

Q: For Paradigm, what will be new and fresh for the season and what trends might we see emerging in this collection?

A: MF: In our second Paradigm release, we have continued the trend of lightweight materials and thin profiles. We’ve introduced more acetates and expanded the size range for additional petite/wider fits. You’ll see lots of bestselling details and construction from our first collection, as well as subtle styling nods to the ’70s and ’80s. We’re adding some new styles this winter and currently working on this campaign!
LH: Mixed-tone metals are something we’re seeing in the accessories market and that look translates so well into eyewear! On several of the metal styles you’ll see subtle combos of gold and silver to more striking pairings like rose gold with sky blue.
JW: Additionally, this season, we’re beginning to reinterpret combining the HD acetate as insert accents. Instead of a full rim insert, playing with the geometry of the shape and frame, and exploring where that will lead us.

Q: Do you have other projects coming up in 2021 regarding any collections across the portfolio?

A: MC: We just launched our second collaboration with Gemma Styles, which has been very successful.  We’ll also be released some long overdue styles from the VWX segment from Vera Wang, we’re excited about that!

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