From a design perspective, one of the things we pride ourselves in is authenticity within our designs and our manufacturing. All of our products are handmade in Greece. Our belief is who better to make sunglasses then the people who understand the sun the most. So we manufacturer our products there with all of the materials being sourced from Italy.
We do all of our designs in house. I spent 3 years in Italy and Greece working with designers there, to really understand the procedures that go into the craft of designing product.
My background is actually in dentistry, i was pursuing Pre-Dental studies at the University of Iowa before venturing off to this. At 18, I started college, but that year was also the first time I met my father in his hometown in Greece. So going to Greece for the first time was an impact shock. My father is also an entrepreneur himself in the manufacturing space for medical supplies in Greece. So I also got to be exposed to that component of manufacturing, the machinery, making things come to life with your hands. People with interest in the medical field also really enjoy working with their hands and with people, and while manufacturing sunglasses may be a little off the line it has the same foundation.
Now a days the internet is the ultimate equalizer. When I was starting out 5-6 years ago, there wasn’t as many resources to connect you with other manufacturers and other resources abroad. So I had to be a little bit more hands on, I had to travel there. But initially we manufactured in China and after bad experiences and poor quality product, something I didn’t want my company to stand for, I revisited the ideas I initially had when I went to Greece to see my father, so I said “why don’t we manufacture this in Greece?” Like most entrepreneurs are people in the product space, first thing they do is go to China to manufacture anything.
But after going through that expierence I realized that if I was going to do this I was going to do this right. So we completely stopped production and then I relocated to Italy and Greece for three years to really understand the process that goes into manufacturing a product. I knew if I really wanted this company to achieve what I knew it could, then I would need to know the entire process like the back of my hand.
The product is very unique in the sense that anyone can start a hat company or a shirt company, these are resources that are local anywhere in the world. But when it comes to creating a product like a pair of sunglasses it’s essentially like building a mini car. There is plastic, glass, steel, nuts and bolts, and all these different functioning parts. So in order to make a single pair of sunglasses it goes through about 50-60 different processes to get it to the end product.
We all know China is the mother of manufacturing so they have all the equipment to do so with ease, here in America or over in Greece and Italy that machinery is not common and therefor products made in these regions have a higher dollar. Eyewear is a complex product to produce, our products go through 55 steps to be completed with industry standard being 26 steps. But it all depends on what you want to offer and how you want to be represented as a company.
You can go to manufacturers out there that have these all in one packages. Where they have pre-set colors, designs, and cost points and they are just going to pump them out and that’s where you see a lot of those sunglasses that people give away at concerts and stuff. That’s a perfect example of a manufacturer who has a preset process and the designers/buyers only input is the color and logo. However with a company like Ellison that wants to be more authentic and unique, we create our own designs. That’s really what I tried to understand and learn in my 3 years abroad, the design component. From the silhouette of the product, the lenses, the packaging it’s all done by us. Then we work with our manufacturer to bring our designs to fruition.
The competitiveness. What most people don’t know is that the eyewear industry is one of the most unknown monopolies out there. It’s a vertical-integrated model. One of my biggest questions when I launched the brand was why are some glasses as expensive as laptops and people are willing to pay? But after further research I uncovered that this large industry is really owned by two large players: Luxottica and Safilo.
So Luxottica for example, buys the licensing rights from companies like Ray Bans, Prada, Oakley, Gucci, then they slap it on their massed produced product and sell it as authentic. So you think you are buying an authentic designed product, but in reality you are just buying a product where the name was purchased, slapped on, and then you paid 20-40 times more than what it cost to manufacture.
One of the big obstacles in selling online instead of in the traditional stores it that with sunglasses, you want to be able to try them on. So we have to have this sort of blend of both online and offline sales. You have to get creative when looking for offline opportunities. We for example look to get our product in stores that don’t have any relation to eyewear, just basic clothing, shoe, and accessories, we even have our product sitting at barber shops. So there is still distribution opportunities but you have to be unique and creative while trying to find your niche.
Warby Parker (the leader of eyewear space online) for example has a niche, they allow you to go online, select 5 pair of glasses you like, they ship them to your door. You keep what you like and send back what you don’t and you are charged only for the product you kept. They too are integrating into brick and mortar stores now, but what they are really good for is online advertisement and they have done millions of dollars just to keep their advertisement level so high. When you go online and you search keywords like “sunglasses” you are going to see the big guys like Ray Bans, Warby Parker, and so on. So as a new company it is difficult to compete with millions of dollars in advertisement. So when Ellison came into the online space, to shut down our traction via Google Searches, Warby Parker actually introduced an “Ellison” product. So when you searched Ellison, you were directed to the product on Warby Parker’s site, not ours.
When I started this company it was to make an impact. Ellison has the “Eye for an Eye” mission, and for every pair of sunglasses we sell, we help those gain their eyesight back that are in need. This was an issue that was also personal, and I felt that this personal problem was something I needed to take on and challenge and ultimately make an impact in the process. I have a mission, I have a passion, and I have a vision to disrupt something that has continued to monopolize. I think in the end we are doing justice by disrupting something that is currently taking advantage of the consumer, and make it an equal playing field for others to follow suit.
This is an expensive industry to be in thanks to the monopoly. Take extra time to truly figure out the distribution component of the business. If you think you are just going to be an online based company and kill it online and only online, you are sadly mistaken. You need money for advertising, you need money to get your team to travel to trade shows and boutiques. You need to really understand the distribution and have the a good amount of funds allocated before you even begin.