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Eyewear Is ‘Starving for Designers’: 9 Questions With Selin Olmsted

The creator of collections for Raen, Article One, Oscar de la Renta and other top brands discusses the experience of setting up a studio, trends and materials, the state of eyewear design education and more.




BTS_Eyewear-Studio-Selin Olmsted
Selin Olmsted

EYEWEAR DESIGNER SELIN Olmsted has spent a lifetime making others look good, starting in childhood in her native Turkey, where she drew clothing collections for her mom. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York she created menswear for labels based in the city before moving into eyewear design, spending several years at Warby Parker. She struck out on her own in 2015 and set up the Selin Olmsted Design Studio in Brooklyn, NY, which is now in its sixth year of providing independent design and product development services for the likes of Heywear, Raen, Article One and Oscar de la Renta.

In a recent interview, Olmsted shared with INVISION her experience of creating the studio and her thoughts on the design process and current eyewear trends, among other topics.

INVISION: What provided the main spark for your decision to open your own design studio? Was there a “brainwave” moment or did the idea develop over time?

SELIN OLMSTED: Two-and-a-half years after working as a designer at Warby Parker, I realized there are not so many of us out there in the US who have the training, knowledge and experience to design and develop a new eyewear style. It’s shocking, but there is no fashion or design school teaching eyewear design of any kind, even though it’s a multibillion-dollar industry. You have to sort of fall into it from somewhere else.

After meeting some remarkable people in the eyewear industry, I realized there is a huge need for an independent eyewear design studio. The industry is literally starving for designers, especially in the US. When that thought hit me, I decided to start a small eyewear studio back in 2015. I think we might be the first eyewear design studio in the US actually, and I am very proud of our entire team.


Now my goal is to start teaching an eyewear design curriculum with a design school in the US. I have met with some of the fashion design universities around this. We are discussing how this might happen. So, crossing fingers there.

INVISION: Can you give me a brief account of how you went about setting up the business; how long would you say the process took from conception to launch, and what were the main challenges/surprises in that process?

OLMSTED: Sure. Before founding the business, the first step was meeting prospective brands/ companies’ founders and creative directors to understand whether there is a need for an eyewear design and product development business. [I’m] grateful I was able to meet some of these exceptional professionals from the industry.

Second, I founded my company, redid my portfolio, created a website and focused entirely on new business development. Receiving my very first project brought me joy and confidence. After my first project, I had the opportunity to meet new brands/new companies, which contacted me for new prospective projects. After working as an independent designer and running my business for one year, our first employee — our current senior designer — joined our team. In the second year we hired our part-time designers and became a bigger team.

We are now in our sixth year providing eyewear design and product development services to our clients as the sole eyewear design studio in the US.

It took probably three to four months to progress from conception to launch of the business.

Challenges… New biz development needs constant love and care, needs to happen continuously. It cannot stop. There are some times when we are in crunch time with projects as a team. In those times, it’s very challenging to make time for new biz development, but it’s absolutely crucial as it might take a couple of months from the day of the first reach-out to the day when we kick off the first project with that corresponding new client.

Another challenge is that accounting and finances cannot be neglected, as well. Accounting, finances, and other operational matters have to be tackled on a regular basis while design is ongoing. Those are the pillar matters of one company. And as a designer, I have to keep pushing myself to educate myself and try to improve my financial literacy.

Surprises… My personal view is people in the eyewear industry are more supportive and collaborative than in the fashion industry. Eyewear industry folks are truly a community which was very nice to see. From the initial conception days of our business to now, I have felt supported, I feel part of that community.

Another surprise: Acetate, metal, sun lenses are fascinating materials. There are endless ways/ combinations they can be matched and paired with. The thicknesses, rim heights, frame shape, components, or the way the materials come together next to each other…all have an impact on how the frame color will look…and this is always a surprise which keeps things always exciting and spicy…The right amount of spicy.

BTS_Eyewear-Studio-Selin Olmsted

INVISION: Did you have a number of clients in place and ready to go before you launched or did you just have faith that you would build them up eventually?

OLMSTED: After about 2.5 years of designing eyewear at Warby, I was starting to have a pretty good idea of who was out there as far as eyewear brands and companies go. Even so, it was still pretty stressful at the beginning as there were no clients yet.

I basically started cold emailing/messaging creative directors, company founders I looked up to, to introduce myself and talk about the studio I was setting up. Setting up all those meetings, crafting the messages, creating a method to track the progress of the conversations took about three months.

Most the brands I contacted first were located in LA so I flew out for a week to meet them. It was a very grassroots/boots-on-the-ground kind of approach but it actually worked out pretty well. I had set up seven meetings that would all take place in one week. It was a great educative, insightful trip. I loved connecting with the creative directors and company founders I contacted. With that motivation, I returned to NYC and started reaching out to eyewear companies and brands on the East Coast. After three months of new business development efforts, I started receiving requests for test projects or small scale projects.

With those first clients, my philosophy was to basically overdeliver on every project and make myself indispensable, which my team and I still try to do to this day. Naturally my first projects were small to reduce risk, but it wasn’t long before clients felt that they could rely on me and the team I was building more and more, so they started giving us more work. Since then the projects haven’t stopped. Even during COVID I would say things slowed down, but never ground to a halt. I’m grateful for that.


INVISION: What are the main requirements, or what qualities do you need to operate a successful eyewear design company? I imagine you need to be quite flexible and have the ability to turn concepts into finished products that adhere to the eyewear companies’ existing aesthetics? Are they open to stylistic departures or are they mostly looking for someone who can follow a pre-existing look or formula?

OLMSTED: Yes, flexibility is very important. In general we are able to pitch a stylistic departure to almost all of our clients. However, depending on the project or brand, this departure can be substantial or modest. Not to mention which part of the timeline we are at. Timeline is everything, especially considering how long it takes from the initial concept to launching an eyewear style.

To try to get to know and learn about the brand’s customers is crucial. And having a close collaborative relationship with the sales and distribution teams or retail teams of the brands we work with. They have an incredible amount of valuable information about the customers who buy the product, so it’s very important to include them, be in close contact and collaboration with them.

Internally, it’s important to listen to the team, empower them by delegation and offer the needed space and resources for them to have the motivation, have fun and be creative. Field trips to museums, exhibitions, eyewear craftsmanship facilities are definitely a must.

Finally, always pushing to challenge ourselves by diving into new projects we have never done before or designing new eyewear styles we have never created before is a good way to keep learning and growing.

INVISION: What sets designing eyewear apart from other types of fashion design?

OLMSTED: It’s microscale design. Half of a millimeter matters tremendously and can make a big difference in an eyewear shape or fit. The variations and combinations never end. It’s absolutely fascinating. There are still a number of subtle unexplored variations and combinations out there that are waiting to be explored. The materials used in eyewear design are beautiful and full of surprises because there are so many variables in the design process. And it’s wonderful to know this; it keeps the excitement always high. There are ways to mitigate this, however some level of surprise is always there. This can be especially experienced when receiving the color samples.

INVISION: What trends/changes can eyewear retailers expect in eyewear in the future? This could have to do with materials, sustainability, etc., or even styles.

OLMSTED: As per my personal observation, we see a polarization of trends in eyewear in [recent] years. On one end, there is an appetite for more air-like, feather-like, super thin, lightweight materials, reduced thin rim heights. However, on the other end of the spectrum, we see statement silhouettes, more weight, more rim height, substantial thicknesses, more 3D effect and volume.

Materials are rich, multi-layered, natural-texture or natural-pattern inspired. The mono colors in full- or semi-transparency come not only in standard best-seller colors, but also in tertiary sophisticated in-between tones.

Techniques and design details such as lamination, step, beveling are going to stay with us….

Sustainability is not a fad. It’s a new field that all members of the eyewear community have to learn and educate ourselves about. However, this educative journey should not be seen as a sprint. It’s a marathon. We need to dedicate more time, research and experience to improve it and make it better every season. While running this marathon, we have to constantly remind ourselves to always stay honest and transparent to our customers and avoid any greenwashing.

Finally, I believe more various ways of technology will be integrated to eyewear in the following years.

INVISION: Is it possible to say, beyond personal taste, what qualities define beautifully designed eyewear? What particular qualities are likely to make you look at a pair of glasses and say: “That’s beautiful/cool/interesting”? Or is that not the desired response?

OLMSTED: Yes absolutely. A beautifully designed eyewear — subtle or generously — should have a unique point of view.

It should have well-thought after (dis)proportions, curves, angles, corners. Each component or part of the eyewear inside or outside should be thought after and they should be in harmony with each other.

Its fit, color and shape should make one happy, confident and give the feeling that he or she can accomplish everything.

It should fit well. Its color should have the right amount of yellow or the right amount of red, blue or green ratio in its mix.

It should not look gimmicky. It should not look like it’s over-designed, as the eyewear should complement the wearer instead of overpowering the wearer.

It should offer the maximum amount of quality and value in proportion to its retail price.

I personally look at its feeling, personality, mood, workmanship quality, choice of components, its movement of the temples, its fit and versatility.

INVISION: Do you have any desire or plans to create your own eyewear line/brand/label?

OLMSTED: No, I don’t. Creating our own eyewear line/brand/label is going to require not only design, product development, sourcing, production and operational skills, but also brand identity and content creation, marketing and sales skills. And I believe those latter three are a whole another beast and crafts to tackle. We are very content to provide eyewear design and product development, sourcing and production services only to our clients.

For the first time this year, we tried a new business model, the full-package services model, where we were not only tackling design, product development but also sourcing, production, packaging and importing. And this was a great experience. We did an introductory batch to test ourselves and gain experience in the full-package service business model and are very happy how the project turned out. I must say our client was an extraordinary collaborative, creative, professional and fun partner to work with. So the product we created together came out to be successful and something we are all proud of.

Eyewear Is ‘Starving for Designers’: 9 Questions With Selin Olmsted

INVISION: What have been the main rewards to you, personally and professionally, of opening your own design studio?

OLMSTED: Having the opportunity to meet many people — not only amazing creatives who have a different perspective on things, but also gifted, talented, intelligent, and kind folks, entrepreneurs, professionals, and people with new ideas — encouraging me, pushing me, to always self-check, to serve better, to keep learning. And to do the needed work to stay relevant.
Creating a work environment that makes someone fulfilled.

Passing along knowledge to others.

Helping companies and teams we admire and believe in their business model grow.

Donating frames to essential workers, or people in need.

Eyewear Designer Selin Olmsted’s 5 Tips for Optical Retailers

  • While learning eyewear design, invest time in learning various steps of the eyewear craftsmanship and its technicalities. It’s very challenging to become a skilled, experienced eyewear craftsman. They are the ones who make an eyewear design beautiful and special. So we have to do everything to support them, to recognize them and learn about the fine details about their crafts as much as possible. If not beautifully crafted, a good design is useless.
  • When assessing frame styles, it’s good to think outside of the box once in a while in the right dose while knowing what the customer would like to wear and is comfortable to wear. They might not know much about eyewear, but they surely know or have generally a pretty good idea on what silhouette, shape or color look good on them.
  • Breaking boundaries, seeking for change, always exploring new perspectives in eyewear design is wonderful while being mindful of its technicality and feasibility. Trends change in eyewear. They evolve. Open mind for change is one of the paths to relevance.
  • Think of creative and efficient ways to make your existing and upcoming business ideas sustainable and environmentally conscious. Remember it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. But it’s important we all start the journey. Perhaps, having an optician business, repairing existing eyewear of customers they no longer use and bringing it back to life again can be a great business model. And extremely creative. The “BODE of eyewear”.
  • If you are planning to launch a new eyewear brand, tackle an unexplored niche, price category or solve a problem in the existing eyewear industry. I do not recommend to launch a brand in an over-explored, crowded segment of the eyewear industry.



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