The eyewear industry is evolving, and leading the movement is the Shanghai-born, Amsterdam-based brand polette. It’s disrupting the status quo by offering design-led prescription glasses that won’t cost an arm and a leg. polette explains: “Producing glasses costs less than £10 per pair. So why pay £500?” But, in an industry worth over $100 billion (£77 billion), most spectacle wearers end up shelling out a lot more for an everyday necessity. Schön! chats with Creative Director Fanny Maillet and Product and Showroom Design Director Elodie Stéphant to find out more about the ‘£14.99’ price tag.
“Only idiots pay more,” the polette website states, an example of the no-nonsense approach that permeates everything the brand does. It goes on to double down on the sentiment with a cheeky confirmation: “If you find cheaper, the boss turns into a nun”. The bosses are co-founders Pierre Wizman and Pauline Cousseau, who launched the brand in 2011 after meeting in Shanghai and immediately began to revolutionise the industry by using a unique ‘factory to consumer’ model. polette has removed the intermediaries that would usually increase the price of traditionally-produced glasses, and, because they’re considered a necessity by a large amount of the population, access to eyewear at a low cost is something that is important to polette. Maillet elaborates: “To be able to see clearly should be a standard thing that anyone should be able to afford. We don’t have stock. We design, produce and send our originals, and this is how we’re able to have the prices we have.”
It sounds simple but, by cutting out the ‘middle people’, polette is enabling consumers to have multiple style options rather than being “stuck wearing the same frames for five years”. However, the option to buy a pair to go with every outfit doesn’t mean that sustainability isn’t important to them. In fact, the company boasts an almost circular ecosystem with zero stock and zero waste, thanks to a process that means designs only going into production once they’ve been ordered online. Additionally, showrooms only use samples which go on to be sold or recycled.
polette also plans to release a small collection with recycled materials. Stéphant explains, “It’s quite difficult to find the best way [to do this], because even if you find nice materials, you then have to think about the look of this material — and how do you produce it? And when it’s produced, how do you recycle it? This is a big challenge, and it’s super nice to try to do something like this.”
The amount of thought that goes into every pair is evident, from choosing to work with the best-quality lenses, to figuring out where the glasses will go once you’re done with them (soon you’ll be able to recycle with polette), but the thoughtfulness doesn’t stop at design. The brand is determined to use their platform to highlight relevant issues, like homelessness, which they did in their campaign Do you see me? Through a partnership with La Mie de Pain (a Parisian emergency centre for the homeless), polette was able to provide free eye tests and glasses. “I think we always wanted to do something to help people that don’t have much, and Paris is the city in Europe where you have the most homeless people,” Maillet reveals. “So, we just said ‘OK, very simple for us to organise, so let’s just make it happen.’ We went there for two days and we managed to do eye tests for 50 people.”
Aside from its philanthropic initiatives, polette also attracts consumers through its bold designs, ranging from retro to avant-garde. Furthermore, it ensures that customers are aware that their high-quality designs are made possible through the expertise of their factories in China. “We work together every day, even if we are not in the same country,” says Stéphant. Representatives from the factories also visit polette’s offices in Amsterdam “so they can exchange with the design team and they see how it works,” highlighting the invaluable relationship polette has cultivated with their team in China.
It’s this transparency and a willingness to jump into uncharted waters that sets polette apart in the optical world — but that’s just the beginning. The next brick and mortar showroom opens in Madrid this year and, aside from continuing its sustainable journey, the brand plans to streamline the showroom process even more — Reinventing the future of retail, basically” — and we don’t doubt it.
For more information, visit polette.com.
This Schön! 38 editorial has been produced by
photography. Oscar Lindqvist
fashion. Kay Korsh
models. Alison @ Grey Model Agency
Jamal Ismail @ MiLK Model Management
Deba + Zenobia Voegele-Downing @ Anti Agency
Cosmo Wellings @ Nevs Models
hair. Waka Adachi
make up. Grace Sinnot
photography assistants. Cezar Banczyk + Anna Nygård
fashion assistant. Fernanda Dovali
words. Jade Thompson