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Making and Selling His Own Frames Led to a Professional Rebirth for This Illinois Optician

He studied with master craftsmen in France and now creates eyewear with a distinctive Midwest American feel.

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Left: Count Eyewear’s custom Cubs-themed frame. Top left: The Driver. Right: A client’s favorite frame, no longer available, is used as a starting point for a new custom frame.
Left: Count Eyewear’s custom Cubs-themed frame. Top left: The Driver. Right: A client’s favorite frame, no longer available, is used as a starting point for a new custom frame.

WE SUSPECT THAT every independent ECP is nurturing an inner frame maker. A few years back, one veteran Illinois optician took the plunge, followed his muse and learned the craft. He’s now reaping the many business and personal rewards of doing so.

THE IDEA

In the late 2010s, after more than 30 years as an optician, Kevin Count was looking for new challenges when a request from a customer sparked what would become a fire, pushing him to take his understanding of frame construction to the next level by enrolling in the eyewear school of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France in Morez. Upon his return to the U.S. in late 2018 he began fashioning his own frames. “A client came in with a broken temple and what should have been a simple repair opened a rabbit’s hole I’m still diving down,” Count recalls.

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THE EXECUTION

At first, Count Eyewear focused on bespoke frames but in the past year it has started producing ready-to-wear eyewear for Corner Optical, Count’s office in Glenview, IL. The frames are made out of acetate, horn and wood in that order of prevalence, with bespoke models starting at $750 depending on complexity and material. The ready-to-wear line runs $450.

Aesthetically, the frames — all named after Chicago locations or attractions — reflect Count’s interest in Americana. “I can often be seen taking pictures of restaurants, old machines, vintage cars, as well as native art.”

Kevin Count at work on a pair of his handmade frames.

Kevin Count at work on a pair of his handmade frames.

Initially, Count’s “workshop” consisted of a tote that held his bench pin, tool wrap and sandpapers. And while he rarely hand-cuts his frames anymore — these days the task is handled by a 3D printer — all frames are still very much handmade and are sold both in the office and online. Count markets via social media and word-of-mouth.

Being small has its advantages. “Because I’m making small batches, at any time I can quickly pivot and redesign or design new pieces to follow trends,” he says.
Count plans to launch a new design and production process later this year, as well as move to a new location, highlighting frame making in the office.

THE REWARDS

The response has been strong. “Orders ebb and flow but there are enough constant inquiries to keep me motivated,” Count says. A recent success story is the MagMile from his ready-to-wear collection, “The most wildly successful frame I have ever stumbled on.” He adds, “It’s pure Midwestern values, distilled into a frame. Simple, straightforward, no pretense.”

Count says making frames has reset his approach to opticianry, giving him a new starting point for learning about construction, design and manufacturing. Since 2020, he has offered workshops. “Professionally this has been my greatest joy,” he says. “Watching people learn the craft, gain confidence and start producing their own design is amazing. Personally, the art and craft of making frames … has been an awakening.”

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Do It Yourself: Make Your Own Frames

  • START TODAY. Says Count: “Grab a demo lens, trace it three times on a sketch pad and design three frames unlike the sample and each other. Repeat.”
  • HIT UP YOUTUBE. Check out Laramy-K/OpticianWorks’ video, in which Count demonstrates frame making. “All you need is a coping saw, some files and sandpaper.”
  • TAKE A CLASS. Patrice Pointet création and MOF (France); Sarah Mosh (Canada), Christopher Savage (Australia); and Count’s own workshops, for starters.
  • TAKE A TOUR. Visit State Optical in Chicago for a tour to see what goes into making a frame. “This alone will change how you look at and present eyewear to your clients.”
  • GO LOCAL. Check out your local maker space or library, urges Count. “There are people making products all the time that may have ideas and resources on how to make your first pair.”

Kevin Count’s 20-step process for making a ready-to-wear frame:

  1. Make initial design
  2. Produce 3D print
  3. Refine design
  4. Produce 3D print
  5. If it’s good, convert design to .dxf file
  6. Open in CAD/CAM software and program cutting paths
  7. Verify tool paths in CAD/CAM
  8. Send to CNC machine
  9. Select acetate
  10. Cut front
  11. Shoot wire cores for temples
  12. Cut temples
  13. Sand and smooth front and temples (either by hand or tumbling)
  14. Hand polish
  15. Set hinges in frame front
  16. Marry temples to front
  17. Bump the bridge and bend the eyewires (bumps and bends)
  18. Assemble frame
  19. Finish polish by hand
  20. Enjoy cold cocktail and enjoy your new creation

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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