Industry Spotlight: Look East Nashville
Welcome back to AO's Industry Spotlight, where we highlight some of our favorite movers in the Independent industry. Last time, we took a look at Eyes on Fremont, one of the first stores to ever carry our line and the creators of the "Fight Evil" campaign. This week, we chatted with Look East Nashville, one of our newest and most exciting shops. Four months out of the gate, Look East has already made a name for itself as an independent-only purveyor. Their dedication to quality eyewear is inspiring and unique, as is their East Nashville location. Dr. Kathleen Brasfield and her Husband Joe head up the shop and have put together a crew of passionate eyewear folks to round out the team. Read on below, where we talk to Joe Basfield and May Hwen, Look East Optical Manager, about opening a brand new business and where to find the best happy hour in East Nashville.
First, how did you get involved in the optical field and what drew you to it?
Joe, Owner: Well, Kathleen has always been interested in biology and knew she was going to do something medical. After she graduated from Optometry school she fell in love with East Nashville so I moved here with her. I got into the optical field because Kathleen was so passionate about it, and I have experience in accounting and management which helps the business.
May, Optical Manager: My grandmother was an office manager at a doctor's office, and she's my biggest role model in life. I've always been involved with music and acting and other performance arts, so when I decided that I wanted to have a stable career that I could still be passionate about, I took all my creative energy and entrepreneurship skills and drove it straight into my optical career. What I love about this job is that it is a perfect hybrid of the fashion industry and the medical field, and I found out something important about myself. I prefer helping patients, even more than I care to entertain people with music or film.
Tell us a little about the history of Look East:
[J]: Me and Kathleen always seem to keep getting into project after project. We wanted to open an optical shop and couldn't find the time. We were in the middle of moving and found out Kathleen was pregnant and that’s when we decided we clearly didn’t have enough going on so we decided it was time to take on this new project. In the middle of all that chaos we found a shop for sale and even though we had no business plan or anything no paper about how we planned on opening the store the owner decided to sell it to us anyway. We wrote the business plan, re-modeled the store, and got the whole business ready all while we were both still working at our other full time jobs. I remember the week before we opened, our daughter Linden was only 9 weeks old, we weren't sleeping through the night, and Kathleen and I were constantly working. We were so tired that the day we opened, Linden and I slept 11 hours straight. It was (and still is) an adventure, there is never a perfect time to do something like this and there weren't any independent optical shops in the neighborhood, so we just took the plunge and I think it turned out really well.
How would you describe East Nashville?
[J]: East Nashville is neighborhood-centric, the community is really passionate about East Nashville. There are hardly any chain stores, it's almost all local businesses and very entrepreneur-focused. It’s a pretty big town with lots of art, music and a great mix of people from different social economic backgrounds.
Favorite local after work stop:
[M]: Lockeland Table is an incredible East Nashville restaurant, and they have one of the best happy hour deals in town. They call it Community Hour, and they serve plates like a wood-fired pizza or Korean tacos, and an amazing list of their hand-crafted cocktails too. You gotta try it when you're in town.
In an environment where you can buy anything online, why is important for customer to visit their local optician?
[M]: We think that the online glasses trend actually has helped the local opticians and the independent frame industry. People have rushed into these impersonal bargain deals, most of which are coming back with major errors and are so low-quality that customers are uncomfortable and disappointed with the results. We have a lot of patients who tell us they’ll never go back to online glasses purchases, and are now more loyal than ever to their local optometrist and optician. They know that they need an expert to advise not only on the medical and visual aspect of the glasses, but also that it's imperative to have a skilled optician advising on the style and the precise fit of the frames.
Describe a perfect day at Look East:
[J]: We just love helping people, and Kathleen loves being an optometrist. We went independent because she wants to be able to spend time with her patients and get to know them. The perfect day, a day where people come in and they feel like they are treated well, they find glasses that have the perfect fit, they can see better than they could before, and they have an overall excellent experience. That’s the kind of day we strive to have everyday, and that’s why we are in the business of helping people.
Tell us a little about the people you work with:
[J]: Our optical manager, May Hwen, is an ABO certified optician with 3 years of optical management experience. She likens her frame styling and adjustment abilities to custom sculpture, and her lens recommendations are highly customized to each patient under her care. Aside from concierge-level customer service and extensive product knowledge, May also embodies a high-level repertoire in marketing and community relations. Kelsie is our optometric tech and receptionist, and she has been working in eyecare for the past 9 years and has heavyweight knowledge of the medical side of the optical business. She graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biobehavioral Health and following, completed an Orthoptic Fellowship in Baltimore, MD. Kelsie also has experience in Pediatrics as well as a specialty in diagnosing eye muscle disorders and vision disorders.
What is your favorite part about working in the independent optical industry?
[M]: We love the freedom and the quality that comes with the independent optical model. Corporate models lack quality and integrity, because corporations force you into buying their products only, and they use the cheapest, most loveless manufacturing methods possible. We want to be able to give our patients exactly what they need, and we want them to love what they wear. They feel that difference in quality and style, even with the most affordable independent products that we carry, and they tell us all the time!
If you could pick any person, throughout history, to walk into your shop needing frames who would you most like to outfit?
[M]: Miles Davis. He was a revolutionary jazz musician, but he was also a trendsetter in eyewear fashion, so it would have been a real exciting thing to be able to fit him in some new suns nowadays. From the Article One collection, I'd put him in the Murray sun in White Frost and Matte Maroon, so he'd have the choice of color on any given day. He often wore plastic aviators, so the suggested double bar and the bold, angular shape would suit him. The Murray also would have the perfect eye, bridge and temple size for Miles.
What is your favorite Article One frame?
[M]: One of our best sellers and a personal favorite has been the Dumont in Matte Horn. It can suit any skin-tone because of its dark-to-clear natural color spectrum, and the transparent moments in the frame allow the wearer's own color to shine through and make it their own. The subtle keyhole fits most bridge shapes, and its classic eye shape and thin temples make it a solid yet comfortable accessory.
Thanks, Look East! We love working with like-minded, small business people who have a passion for supporting independent brands and shops. Nashvillians, stop by Look East to say "hi" and hit the Lockeland Table Happy Hour after!