JOSEPH HWANG, 30, of University City, is a co-founder and chief designer of Barring Eyewear. The startup uses innovative materials and cutting-edge technology to manufacture and market sunglasses. The University City firm expects to launch a line of prescription eyewear in the spring. Other co-founders are Eric Fiore, Frank Tucci and Kim Chhour.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea?
A: I designed sunglasses as a hobby. I was working in New York and returned to Philly in 2013 to go to graduate school at Penn. Eric and Frank, who were friends, asked if I could design sunglasses made from wood and acetate. Fast-forward to last April and we launched the business.
Q: The startup money?
A: Mostly personal savings. We started with $10,000 and put more in as we grew.
Q: What's the biz do?
A: We manufacture and sell sunglasses, which are made of rosewood, zebra wood, black walnut, and high-grade acetate. We get wood from family farms in Southeast Asia, Africa and North America, polarized lenses from the U.S. and hinges from China. We have two manufacturing facilities, in China and Southeast Asia.
Q: The biz model?
A: Most of our sales have been online at our website [barringstore.com]. We're expanding to local retailers and selling through websites with online malls. We're a Benefit Corp and donate some of our revenue to Rock to the Future and American Cancer Society. [Rock] supports underprivileged kids in Philly.
Q: Your customers?
A: We sell primarily in Philadelphia, D.C. and New York. We have several hundred customers. They're people with disposable income, between 25 and 34, some in their 40s. They include lawyers, bankers, accountants, even prominent tech execs.
Q: Most popular items?
A: Black walnut is probably the most popular because lots of individuals like conservative styles for business. But rosewood and high-grade acetate are attractive to the sporty crowd.
Q: What differentiates you from competitors?
A: You can buy our sunglasses using Bitcoin. When we roll out prescription eyeglasses, we'll be able to take prescriptions online. We're in the luxury vertical space so we compete with brands like Shwood, Persol and Oliver Peoples. Their price points are $200 to $300; ours is $120.
Q: How big a biz is this?
A: We began to sell sunglasses in November. We've had between $50,000 and $100,000 in revenue to date.
Q: What's next?
A: We want to sell eyeglasses in optical shops and brick-and-mortar stores. We want to be strong first in Philly before branching out. The goal is 100 brick-and-mortar locations by the end of this year.