Industry Spotlight: Eyes on Fremont
When Article One founder, Wes, borrowed his Mom's car to drive around the country selling his very first collection of frames 5 years ago, Eyes on Fremont was among the first stores to take a chance on the young upstart. Consistently rated one of the best optical stores in the country, gambling on a small but passionate brand like ours was surprising, but we've since learned that gamble is very much in line with EOF's main ethos: FIGHT EVIL. Eyes on Fremont was founded on the principal that good design and quality are more important than the name on the side of a frame and have since repeatedly invested in independent brands like ours.
We chatted with Nate, Owner, scratch golfer, and house DJ about Eyes on Fremont's history and why optical shops matter in the age of online retailers.
First, how did you get involved in the optical field and what drew you to it?
I was aimlessly taking classes at Seattle Central Community College, when I overheard a career consular talking to somebody about the Opticianry Program. My professional snowboarding career wasn't quite going how I planned so I signed up for the glasses gig.
Tell us a little about the people you work with:
There are 15 people that work at Eyes on Fremont. The retail floor is only about 450 sq. ft. so we've all gotten to know each other on a pretty intimate level. It really works out though because we are all such different personalities, everyone has their own sense of style, mannerisms, etc. so it ends up working at the end of the day.
What is the history of Eyes on Fremont:
Stan Jonasson, and wife, Linda Jangaard opened up Halloween 1996. Stan had managed a few other stores and Linda had a background in accounting. They opened it on the 3 P's: People, the Opticians have to understand the delicate balance of fashion and function in the eyewear industry. Product, there's so much of it out there you have to work at finding the really good stuff vs. just the flavor or brand of the month. Price, it doesn't matter how good of an Optician you are or how great the product is, if the value isn't there it's not a well rounded end product.
I started working at Eyes on Fremont in 2002, and eventually Stan and Linda retired in 2011 and I took over to run the store in the same spirit.
Where does "Fight Evil" come from?
I was in New Haven, Connecticut for meetings with a host other Optical Retailers. We were walking from one meeting location to another. I looked up…tagged in graffiti, on the back of a large billboard a number of stories up was “FIGHT EVIL.” It resonated. The optical industry was going through an ugly period of consolidation, and there were aggressive and very large entities rapidly eliminating consumer’s choices, without them even knowing it. I have no issues with big business, when conducted honorably. I have issues with businesses operating under the guise of opacity.
Later that year, with the help of Seattle Designer Matthew Parker, we launched Eyes on Fremont’s first cohesive marketing campaign “FIGHT EVIL.” It was slated to run for eighteen months
Then “FIGHT EVIL” began to take a life of its own. 60 Minutes ran a story about one of the more dominate industry entities. Customers started to draw parallels with the campaign and their own industries. We had a fair number of people expressing their distaste to the campaign, but hey if everyone likes it, you’re not trying hard enough, right? Now there is a fair amount of political banter started by the two words. Originally I felt that “FIGHT EVIL” would have been successful if it called just a sliver of attention to the opacities of large Optical Industry players. Now I am proud that it has fostered conversations about so much more than that. “FIGHT EVIL” has been with us for nearly six years now, and it has become part of Eyes on Fremont’s DNA.
What is the neighborhood your shop is located in like?
Fremont used to be filled with hippies, bikers, etc. it was kind of the hub for counter culture in Seattle. Although it's not as gritty these days it's still pretty eclectic. Every year there is a Summer Solstice Parade, which is pretty normal, until the group of hundreds of naked bicyclists rides by...
Describe a perfect day at Eyes on Fremont:
Get to the store around 9:00am take care of emails and other clerical chores. Greet the staff as they filter in for the morning, store opens at 10:00. Although I don't get to quite as much these days, I really enjoy the days that I can spend time on the sales floor. It's fun, it's energetic and it keeps me connected with our customers. On a normal day we sell about 20 pairs of glasses, and we finish everything in house. So on a perfect day it's nice to see the intricate balance of selling, ordering, dispensing, adjusting etc. The team is really incredible at making it all come together.
If you could pick any person, throughout history, to walk into your shop needing frames who would you most like to outfit?
Being from Seattle it would have to be Jimi Hendrix. Such an incredible musician, and such a rad style. As the world becomes more and more homogenized it's so refreshing to look back at his individuality.
What is your favorite part about working in the independent optical industry?
I LOVE the fact that this is ground floor, in the trenches, business on a personal level. You can make a decision to do something one way one day, and you almost instantly see the results. Business is talked about a lot in the news but it's big business, it's stocks and index funds. The independent optical industry is selling and servicing you're barber's glasses that you see every two weeks.
In an environment where you can buy anything online, why is important for customer to visit their local optician?
Frame selection and fitting are the two biggies that I notice more and more. These days you see a lot of people walking around in glasses that are SO wrong for them. Y'know someone with a really small face, 57 PD and a -6.00 Rx who picked a 56 eye size not realizing how thick and heavy their lenses would be, let alone the crazy minification etc. Or when their temples aren't curved to match the crutch of the ear so they ride up all funny. It's funny we'll get some pretty style savvy people who come in with some horrible glasses, but hey, that's our job!
What is your favorite Article One frame?
Very into the Dumont in Matte Havana right now. I think you guys really hit it on the thickness and warmth of the color.
Thanks, Nate! we <3 EOF. Keep fighting the good fight.