Made Eyewear takes the long view on the e-commerce glasses industry

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on August 5, 2013

From The News Desk

The Hunderts have been running REM Eyewear for decades, selling eyeglass frames wholesale for retailers like Lucky Brand, Converse, and Cosmo. It's a family business with deep roots in traditional brick-and-mortar sales. This is the type of company that's getting upstaged by retailers like Warby Parker, which cut out the costs of a middle man by selling directly to consumers online.

Now Kevin Hundert, the 25-year-old son of REM CEO Mike Hundert, is splitting off from the business to try his hand at ecommerce for eyewear. Last month Kevin started his own company Made Eyewear with the premise of customizable glasses. For $84, people can pick their own frame and colors, and laser their name, Twitter handle, favorite word, or whatever other personal logo they'd like into the glasses' temples.

Made Eyewear is following in the footsteps of the infamously hip Warby Parker. Like Warby, Made bypasses physical retail locations, allowing people to virtually try on glasses and order them off the Web, with a free return policy if they don't look good in person.

Despite the fact that there's a million and one Warbys out there, ranging from Lookmatic, Classic Specs, and Eyefly, Made has gotten extensive media coverage since it launched in July. It has been written about on Women's Wear Daily, Thrillist, Inc., Pure Wow, and the Zoe Report. Fashion editors seem to be intrigued by the company's premise of customizable frames, which sets it apart from other online glasses shops.

Ironically, Made Eyewear is able to offer customizable frames in the Warby business model because Kevin has made extensive connections through the legacy eyewear industry. It's an interesting juxtaposition and an inherent tension between the past and the present. Kevin wouldn't be able to do what he's doing without the infrastructure supporting him, but at the same time Made Eyewear is entering the world that may one day put traditional glasses companies out of business.

Kevin's father Mike doesn't agree that the industry is threatened by the Warby's of the world.

"I know this dynamic is feared by a lot of brick and mortar retail stores, they're afraid they'll go away," Mike says. "But they won't -- it will only become easier and more fun to do."

Mike points to the fact that the ease and cheapness of online shopping encourages people to buy glasses more often, instead of waiting the average 2.2 years between purchases. He sees the new market dynamics as an opportunity, and as one might expect, he's proud as hell of Kevin for starting his own company.

In fact, Kevin got the inspiration for Made after Mike sent him to the REM factory in China for six weeks on his own to learn how production works. Kevin spent that time surrounded by people who didn't speak English.

On Google Hangouts, the father-son duo reminisced about the experience. "When they were trying to teach me different things it was a hundred percent sign language, trial and error, people laughing at me," Kevin said.

"In terms of being outside your comfort zone, that is what drives life. You should constantly be pushing the envelope and getting out of your comfort zone -- that's how you grow and learn," Mike responded.

In response Kevin said, "It's easy enough to say that when you're making someone else do it!" Despite the good-natured teasing, the two are clearly close and the trip to the factory changed the course of Kevin's career.

He remembers the exact moment he decided to start a customizable eyewear business. He was gesturing wildly to a man operating the laser machine, who had just shown Kevin how to engrave a logo into the temples of the glasses. The process only took thirty seconds, which gave him an idea.

Eventually, the machine operator understood that Kevin wanted to put his own name into a temple. He entered Kevin Hundert into the computer software, and half a minute later Kevin had a cool pair of glasses and an idea for a company.

If it was so fast and easy, why couldn't everyone create their own glasses? The next time he saw the factory owners -- the only people on the premise who spoke English -- he asked them exactly that. They answered, "You could, but no one ever has." That was the only push Kevin needed. He'd tap into the trend towards customization among the teens and 20s demographic, and he'd try to disrupt Warby Parker at its own game of hip, cheap, online eyewear shopping.

He secured his production lines in a matter of minutes. He had a close, personal relationship with the factory owners after six weeks there. He calls them his second family, because they "basically adopted" him, and they were the first people he consulted about his idea for a company. They liked the idea, and they agreed to come on board and help Kevin launch Made.

"The first question was, like, 'Do we have this relationship? Are you guys in?' And they're like, 'Yes we're in,'" Kevin says. "We had that figured out before I even left China." Funding also hasn't been a problem. "It's the definition of bootstrapping: friends, family, fools, and faculty at Babson," Kevin says.

Without having to struggle with setting up production issues, and the influx of media attention, Kevin certainly has a shot at becoming a player in the online eyewear world. He's in a unique position, straddling the old and the new, and drawing on the best of both worlds.