April 08, 2022
Jordan Percy, Co-founder and Head of Product and Design
Founded in 2008 from a shared vision for sunglasses with a modern classic edge, Oceanside-based RAEN has built on its surf heritage to create handcrafted designs aimed to go beyond just another California eyewear brand. Europe 20/20 talks to design director and co-founder Jordan Percy as he shares how the firm is positioning itself in today’s crowded market and how he plans to build on its growing optical frame collection in seasons ahead.
Q: Does the name RAEN have a special meaning? How did you think of the concept for the brand back in 2009?
A: Our background before RAEN was brand building and working with many diverse clients. When we had the idea of creating a brand, we knew we wanted the name to be a word that was a bit cryptic. Ideally, one syllable, short and memorable, with a connection to water. We worked with a copywriter to create a giant word bank based on those requirements, and RAEN is where we landed. The three founders, Justin Heit, Jeremy Heit, and myself, Jordan Percy, brought together a combination of creative experience from design and branding to professional surfing. We had previously done some eyewear design branding for clients at the time, and that inspired us to think about how we would position our own brand. In the surf and lifestyle channel in California, the styles at that time were very sporty – injected wraps and they often lacked craftsmanship and sense of quality. We wanted to bring change to the market. As an independent eyewear company, RAEN continues to forge a new path focused on the use of premium materials in order to create carefully crafted and attainable, modern classic eyewear, where the California spirit seeps into every pair.
Q: How does RAEN’s California heritage inform the brand and its pillars? In what ways does the town of Oceanside influence its design philosophy?
A: The brand’s roots are in Oceanside. Oceanside is a unique coastal community in Southern California, one of the few places left that still has an authentic “blue collar” feel, not a fake luxury hotspot. This influence is imminent in all our designs and communication. From this place, we created a brand that would specialise in designing and building “Modern Classics”, pieces that are informed by classic design, but are all together contemporary, and will stand the test of time. This is our design ethos.
Natural tones in acetate
Q: What have been some of the decisions you made early on that you believe have helped position the brand as a global player thirteen years on?
A: It's true, RAEN has now turned into a global eyewear brand, but the influence of what is around us here at home is always present in our collection. I feel there are clear aspects of what we are and what we are not. We are Handmade. California. Surf. Independent. Fashion. We are relaxed, inspired, positive, adventurous, earnest and sophisticated with a little grit around the edges. California is a giant place, it is extremely diverse geographically and culturally, so I think it is not possible to have just one “California” label and identity. But hopefully our vision comes through the feeling of the brand, and its interpretation around the world. A brand coming from where we come from, with a collective experience and background in the “action sports” industry, can run the risk of being boxed into that reality, and only ever being an “action sports” brand. We made very conscience decisions early on to always present the brand as having one foot rooted in that authentic surf heritage, but also have the other foot stepping forward, beyond that position, exploring influences beyond and presenting itself as a more than just a “sunglass surf brand”, but a brand with a global view and ability to present a full optical range in addition to sunglasses.
Q: RAEN started out as a sunglasses brand but has since developed its range to include optical designs. How are you planning to build on the optical frame collection in upcoming seasons?
A: Yes, we’ve been learning a lot, and the optical collection has really blossomed in the past few seasons. The optical collection is critically important for our EU business, and a massive opportunity for us here in the States as well. Our latest evolution came in the form of offering a collection of Beta-Titanium frames to complement our acetate collection. We are growing this season by season, and the frames have received great feedback. Looking forward, we will continue to refine our offering in both materials. We are exploring shapes that expand and complement our Modern Classic heritage, taking more risk and presenting RAEN’s view of some more fashion forward looks. It’s an exciting time for the collection and the brand.
Q: What do you think is the magic of hand-crafted frames? What makes RAEN’s craftsmanship unique in today’s eyewear environment?
A: For me, that magic starts with the material. Acetate has such a warmth to it, both visually and in hand. It has a heritage, a pedigree. A link to a less technological time, when craftsmanship was really valued. I connect “hand-crafted” with craftsmanship. Of course, our partners that we work with to manufacture our frames employ the latest technology to ensure efficiency and precision when it comes to cutting and processing the material, but there are still so many steps that require a skilled hand’s touch, refining an edge, mounting hardware, polishing on the wheel, so many steps where things can go really well in the right hands, or really wrong in the wrong hands. To test this little theory out, on a trip to visit a factory, I convinced the team to let me try and execute the steps along the line to see if I could build a frame properly. Let’s just say, my frame would never come close to passing QC. In fact, the manager on the line said he would have to fire me. I really learned to appreciate the work the team does that day. I think that appreciation informs our design, and in turn, RAEN’s position in today’s crowded eyewear market.
Q: The ‘modern classic’ aesthetic permeates through most of the designs. Which would you say are the brand’s more recognisable models and what do you think makes them so popular?
A: As mentioned above, we are a brand that guides our design approach with our “Modern Classics” design ethos. Our consumer is looking for a bit of Californian sunshine in their lives. Our core customers tend to be a diverse group of young professionals, creatives, people who appreciate the classics, but aren’t looking for “vintage”, so they are seeking out the Modern Classic aesthetic we champion. The familiar and new, all at once. We have a broad range of shapes, but our all-time most popular frame is the Remmy. It’s a frame with universal appeal, classic P3 lens shape, clean lines, and a distinctive high bridge position. The thin rim heights make it comfortable to wear, and the bridge works for customers with a variety of heritages.
Q: Why is it important to the brand that glasses are ‘attainable’? How do you manage to maintain a fair price point for consumers while ensuring the desired quality?
A: Our frames certainly aren’t the cheapest on the market, nor are they the highest, we strive to offer a well-made frame, using quality materials, that will serve you well for years to come at a reasonable price. It’s that simple really. That means we are selecting a material palette to work with that achieves that goal while not adding too much “luxury” cost, adding visual interest and details such as bevels, unique hardware, and laminations, without overdoing it and complicating the process, in turn adding unnecessary cost. So, from a design point of view, it’s always a challenge to innovate and evolve the collection, while retaining that position in the market that works so well for us.
Q: Where would you like to see the brand evolving in the coming years? What can we expect from RAEN on the launch front moving forward?
A: We just set our Spring Summer ’23 collection, and there are many treats in store for you! We will be introducing six new sun frames, and six new optical frames. We will be expanding our Zafrique Ensemble capsule collection with brand ambassador Mikey February. We will be introducing a Bio-Acetate collection updating our best-selling styles for the season, a great step forward for the brand. In another sustainability effort, we will be shifting all of our black acetate sun frames to be constructed with 100% recycled materials next year. And of course, our optical collection will continue to refine and evolve with a range of frames that push our acetate assortment to new heights. Please stay tuned!