Menswear Style Podcast

Jason Kirk, Co-Founder of Kirk & Kirk

June 14, 2020 Menswear Style Episode 67
Menswear Style Podcast
Jason Kirk, Co-Founder of Kirk & Kirk
Chapters
Menswear Style Podcast
Jason Kirk, Co-Founder of Kirk & Kirk
Jun 14, 2020 Episode 67
Menswear Style

In 2013 Jason and Karen Kirk launched an eyewear line for individuals. A line that is boldly expressive and proudly inclusive, with shapes that break boundaries. Kirk & Kirk frames are authentic, inspirational, and confident, just like the people who wear them. Jason Kirk grew up in optics, his grandfather Sidney and his great uncle Percy founded Kirk Brothers in 1919 when they converted an old sewing machine into a lens cutter. Karen Kirk studied design in London and was working for Saatchi and Saatchi when she turned to optics.

Motivated by a strong family legacy and a desire to bring something new to the eyewear market, Jason and Karen Kirk started Kirk & Kirk as a line to innovate and inspire. The line was immediately a success and their frames are now sold in 30 countries worldwide. They believe every collection they create should bring something new to the market. Their Kaleidoscope collection offers an array of colours and dimensions that cannot be imitated, and the Centena collection is the only 10mm thick acrylic eyewear frame construction in the world.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Co-Founder Jason Kirk about his family's rich history within the optics industry. Jason took an interest in eyewear once he came across an old box of glasses which his grandfather had once made. He then teamed up with Karen who had graphic design skills which complimented his optics knowledge to bring something new and exciting to the industry. Our host Peter Brooker and Jason also discuss innovative eyewear materials, why glasses are an extension of fashion, buying frames and lenses online, and why Robert Downey, Jr. is such a fan of the brand.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Show Notes Transcript

In 2013 Jason and Karen Kirk launched an eyewear line for individuals. A line that is boldly expressive and proudly inclusive, with shapes that break boundaries. Kirk & Kirk frames are authentic, inspirational, and confident, just like the people who wear them. Jason Kirk grew up in optics, his grandfather Sidney and his great uncle Percy founded Kirk Brothers in 1919 when they converted an old sewing machine into a lens cutter. Karen Kirk studied design in London and was working for Saatchi and Saatchi when she turned to optics.

Motivated by a strong family legacy and a desire to bring something new to the eyewear market, Jason and Karen Kirk started Kirk & Kirk as a line to innovate and inspire. The line was immediately a success and their frames are now sold in 30 countries worldwide. They believe every collection they create should bring something new to the market. Their Kaleidoscope collection offers an array of colours and dimensions that cannot be imitated, and the Centena collection is the only 10mm thick acrylic eyewear frame construction in the world.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Co-Founder Jason Kirk about his family's rich history within the optics industry. Jason took an interest in eyewear once he came across an old box of glasses which his grandfather had once made. He then teamed up with Karen who had graphic design skills which complimented his optics knowledge to bring something new and exciting to the industry. Our host Peter Brooker and Jason also discuss innovative eyewear materials, why glasses are an extension of fashion, buying frames and lenses online, and why Robert Downey, Jr. is such a fan of the brand.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Unknown:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker and on this episode I'm going to be talking to Jason Kirk, Director of Kirkland Kirk, the eyewear brand. And I'm going to read you the bio like I always do off the LinkedIn profile. So kirkin Kirk 100 years of innovation in 2013, Jason and Karen Kirk launched an eyewear line for individuals align that is boldly expressive and proudly inclusive with shapes that break boundaries, Kirk and Koch frames are authentic, inspirational and competent. Just like the people who wear them, I could go on, there's another four or five paragraphs, but that would ruin the interview. I want to save some of the juice for the interview. We'll get to that shortly. In the meantime, make sure you're checking out menswear startup credit UK, that's where we'll put all of the show notes, everything that we mentioned in the interview over there, along with other articles, fashion, lifestyle competitions. If you also type in menswear style into your social into your smart phone there will come up and we'll notify you when we get some new articles live. If you want to be a part of the show, tell us about your journey. How you got your brand off the ground. Brand off the ground. You can email us at info at menswear. style.co.uk Okay. Here is that interview with Jason Kirk, Director of Career. It's my great pleasure to introduce Jason Kirk, Director of Kirk and Kirk How we doing today, Jason? Very well, indeed. How are you? Oh, I'm fantastic. The rain has just set in. So out of the summer, we come into the well, I guess the stereotypical British weather. It's been great. You can't complain. I know. So Jason, please give us a thumbnail sketch of you and the brand, Captain Kirk. Sure. Well, Karen Koch and I've been making glasses for nearly 30 years now. But my family's been an optics for 100 years. So Sydney and Percy Kirk started up a company called Koch brothers back in 1919. And they are really interesting approach. They felt that if they could push the whole industry for the whole optical industry for which it will benefit their company. So they started to set up factories in the UK and they would help other people set up factories. And I guess like if you looked at that today, comparatively, you would say they were helping their competitors, but they just didn't view it like that. They thought push the industry forward. And they innovated and changed and developed the whole industry. And then the next generation my dad and his brothers and cousins were all opticians and I was not interested at all. And then I was in my mid 20s. And I was helping my dad clear on his practice one day. And I found these boxes of beautiful old frames in the 1950s and 60s. And they were magnificent. I asked my dad what they were and they said Oh, it's so it's stuff that your granddad made back in the 50s. And he you know, we never sold them. So got them if you like them, we can keep them. And it was it was great. I was working for L'Oreal took a week off work. And I took these beautiful glasses out and an old with an old Hitachi case. I went banging on the doors of all these fashion stores and I had no idea who they were. And it was people like Helen story and Nick Coleman are like great people that day. And I go and bang on the door and I'd say Oh, it's Helen in place. And they go Yeah, sure. Go downstairs and on Newberg Street and go and hang out with him story show these glasses night he was how important she was to fashion. And these people really loved them. So I spent a week doing this. And I came back and the following Monday I went into work thinking, oh god, I really I really want to get back to the glasses and do that. And L'Oreal made me redundant. Okay, perfect timing, great coincidence. And I used that money to make some more glasses. And Karen, who is my girlfriend at the time and my wife, but was my partner in business at that point, was a graphic designer. So the marriage of her graphic skills and design skills, my optical experience meant that we could start doing something really special in optics. And we decided right from the very beginning that we would take my grandfather's principles and the idea was that if we wanted to bring anything into the industry, it will be bringing something new. So everything that we've done over the last 20 something years has been trying to innovate trying to drive people forward. Not just opticians, but the way that consumers feel and think about eyewear dialling back 30 years when you're just starting out making the glasses fear sells. Are you changing the baton there? Are you taking the baton from? Was it your grandfather or your father that was also making glasses? No. My dad was not too So my dad had a country practice in place called chaplains and jobs where I grew up. And it was very much a country medical optical practice. So it wasn't fashionable. And there weren't any brands involved. It was and in fact, it was before brands are really big in optics. And so when I discovered all these beautiful glasses, and the first thing I did was that the market research, so I was going out looking at opticians and fashion stores in London, and trying to find what was going on. And nobody had anything interesting. I mean, it was, it was just real fashion and really conservative and really dark. So I thought, Well, okay, there's room for this, there's room for something special. Now, luckily, I didn't go and look further afield, you know, had I gone to Paris or had I gone to America, I might have found some more interesting and exciting stores. But at that point, it was really bringing something very, very new to to acquire a conservative marketplace. mean, there were people around at that time, doing interesting things across the world. So if you look at companies like la iworks, who are still very much an independent store and design company, and they were around at that time, and they were changing the American perception of what I was all about. And there was Alan McCauley, who was working from Paris, who's was very important in driving optical design forward. But there wasn't that much going on. It was really the beginning of exciting eyewear, right? You know, Jason, when I look on the website, I can't help but smile. It's like just going through all of the history the Koch family on holiday in Margate, for example, a nice line up and then the kids kind of following in tow. And then there's a picture of you and your wife underneath. Also, you use a very special type of material that distinguishes you from other brands. Can you just tell us a little bit about the materials that make up the eyewear, please? Yeah, sure. Um, actually, I'll relate those two parts of the story because my granddad used to to experiment with materials. So he would use something called calcite, or it's also called Galilei, which is like a milk powder to make frames. And they were really experimental and innovative. And when we found all these original glasses, there were lots of frames that were made up to use a general word made of plastic. And we couldn't work out how they were made. Because if you use what is the standard material for plastic glasses, which is acetate, the material, the frames wouldn't have held their shape. So we were exploring, we were trying to work out what materials they were using. And we couldn't actually find the solution. We couldn't find what it was. So then we started to say, Well, how can we make this type of frame and this this kind of approach to eyewear, what kind of materials are around that we can use now. And we started to explore acrylic. acrylic is a very, again, quite a general word. And you find a critic tables and acrylic shells and the curling picture frames. It's not exactly the same as that. So what happened was, we went to an acrylic factory. And we started to experiment making different grades of acrylic and different chemical formula. And we managed to find something which was flexible enough to be manipulated into eyewear into eyeglass frames. But also that was strong enough to to hold a pair of glasses into wear comfortably. So we're actually the only people in the world who use who hand make frames out of acrylic. And apart from being able to make special shapes and special colours, when you wear an acrylic frame is incredibly light. So when you look at the website, you see these quite chunky frames that really substantial and voluminous, yeah. And the counterplay with that is that they are a fraction of the weight of a much smaller plastic frame that you would normally see or try on. So they're really, really comfortable to wear. You also you also get this incredible palette of colours that you don't see anywhere else. And that's really important, because you can't do that with acetate. No, it's just like any part of the fashion industry. The materials that we use generally in our industry are dictated to by or dictated by a number of large manufacturers. So you know the fabrics that are available to you from the usual suspects Well, in optics that's more so than in in fabrics if you're making the suit, for example. So there are a few really large manufacturers who supplied pretty much all of the frame makers in the world. So for us to be able to go to someone completely independent, produce our own colours, producer and thicknesses produce our own patterns. It allows us to have a unique collection and that's great for the retailers but it's also great for the consumer because you can wear something that really reflects your personality. And that's so important. You know I wear for so long was considered a medical necessity, something that You know if you had to wear glasses while you wear something discreet, but why would you do that? I mean, you don't you don't talk about wearing a pacemaker you talk about having a pacemaker you don't talk about wearing it on a colostomy bag, right? Having a colostomy bag. It's not glasses are you wear glasses, they're fashionable. And if you can find something that you enjoy wearing, and that reflects your personality and add something to your personality, then there's pleasure in that it's not just performing a function. Oh, yeah, I mean, even the late Patrick Swayze, he didn't need to wear glasses, but he wanted to wear glasses. You see him doing any kind of speech on stage or the the Oscars, he rocks up. He just had to wear glasses, because he wanted to look like he was smarter and beyond his years, but he also wanted to have something else. It was like the crazy 80s fashion that was going on? Yeah, absolutely. And you know, you don't you don't wake up in the same mood every day, you don't wear the same clothes every day. And if you if you're moving in a different environment, then your glasses as much as your shoes or your shirt or whatever else you're wearing, should reflect how you feel and what you want to portray about yourself. How often do you get complimented on your glasses? Jason? If I don't get complimented a few times a day by a stranger, I'm kind of insulted. But especially I imagine if you and your wife are going to parties, I mean, the two of you must, you must get flagged up. Yeah, so it's always kind of like the glasses couple. Yeah, to an extent but but also you don't have to. And I don't always wear glasses that stand out. Particularly, you know, it depends. There are obviously a range of bosses that I'll choose from every morning. And I might change my glasses during the day as well. And sometimes it'll be bright orange. Right now I'm wearing a violet pair, which is a, we call it violet. It's a kind of a combination of our pink and blue together. And it's really exciting, interesting frame. But actually, the trick tool, this is just wearing it naturally. I mean, I'm not. I'm never conscious that I'm wearing a bright orange frame, for example. It's just, it's just part of what I'm wearing on that day. And that relaxation, that that comfort with what you're wearing is so important. Yeah. And, and so how has the brand grown with say, ecommerce and the digital world that we live in now? So talk us through a couple of steps and you had to build a website and and become a an online presence as well. Yeah, it's fascinating, isn't it and buying eyewear, which does you know, there's, there's no negating the medical function of eyewear is very, very important part of what you do, but the transaction of buying a pair of glasses, is divided into two parts. It's the lenses, and it's the frames, and there is no substitute. And we've got to be really, really clear about this is no substitute for getting a high quality, proper independent eye test from an optician. Because there's so much health benefit in doing that an optician can see so much about your body generally, it's really important to do it. At the same time, you want people people are really savvy now why wouldn't you shop for eyewear and exactly the same way that you shop for any item of clothing and get online, do your research find out where you want to go, what you want to wear who you want to be. And so but there was always resistance in our industry. So we have traditionally been a very much a wholesale brand that will sell to opticians, we'll sell our sunglasses to department stores and fashion boutiques. But most of our business is selling through opticians and opticians were very, very wary and protective of their business. So they were very reticent about brands like us going online and talking directly with the consumer. Well, that's really changed. It's really changed over the last few years because they've recognised that consumers behave in that way. And people want to find things. So for us, we've had to, we've always pushed towards being online, we've always had an online presence but not necessarily sold online. And the thing that I found that's the most important and productive part of what we do is actually offering the dialogue to people. So it's not just about having a website where people can go on and make a purchase. They can return it if they don't like it sure that that stuff's straightforward. But actually getting proper styling advice on on I wear what I wear works, what's going to work with your prescription. What are the practicalities of buying eyewear online? So we've ended up having brilliant dialogue with people and and being a source of information because I always been a kind of a almost like a closed world for people that it's commonly a little bit mysterious, a little bit protected. So yeah, that interaction direct with the consumer is really, really important and you know, it's a fun experience. It's a really good really liberating experience. To go from either not wearing glasses, because you don't want to or wearing contact lenses, because you can't find anything that you really like, or wearing a really ordinary, boring functional pair of glasses, to wearing something that you feel amazing. And that people stop you in the string got IV glasses. And that's that whole sensation is really difficult to I mean, you're describing it, but you only get it once you start wearing them. And there's something about our bosses that that means that you feel the way that you feel in them. But there's also a way that people interact with you. And, you know, needs other other ways apart from me to tell you and your audience what that is. But it's just an amazing feeling. These glasses, and I encourage everyone to check out kirkin koat.com. We'll have everything over on the show notes on menswear style as well. But the glasses, I almost feel like there's some kind of tactile presence to them that you really just want to touch them and feel them and then expect that lightweight feel the kind of juxtapositions to seeing something quite chunky, but then picking it up and going, oh, wow, this actually weighs nothing, just the overall look of them, they look fantastic, you find that there's a lot of people that will shop with you that don't necessarily need glasses. And yes, I mean, it's not it's not a major part of our business. But people, I think the difference is that people get excited about eyewear for the first time. So, I mean, yes, we'll get people who want to wear glasses for just for refreshes, they admit it's not a big part of what we did. But I think people like to know that they can wear glasses that they would enjoy wearing, as opposed to if I have to wear glasses, then what am I going to do? I think that's an important part. And you mentioned that you've got quite a few classes. How do you look up to these classes? I know it sounds a stupid question. But I'm. So imagine for someone like me that might have the watch draw that you'd pull out and you can have a selection of watches. Is it kind of similar for glasses? And elton john has a glasses room? Oh, I love that. I didn't know that. That makes perfect sense. Yeah. And you look after them carefully, it's an investment like a watch. It's it's a lot of money. And if you lenses can be expensive frames can be expensive. And so you look after them carefully, and keep them in a case and keep them in a drawer and everything else. But you know, I know people that have got trays, like protective trays with a close lid on the top, that they open up every morning to look at their half a dozen frames to make their decision about what they're going to do. If you've got something that's cost you upwards of 500 pounds, and you look after it. Jason, I'm, I'm curious to ask you, we're recording this just the start of June, we've had a real pandemic, everybody knows the kind of state of the world that we're living in right now. How has this affected you and supply chains? And and the way people shop with you? Yeah, it's a really good question. And I think it's what's happened is it's brought forward changes that were inevitable for our industry. So for us, it's made us reflect on what we do on our supply chain, we buy our material, we make our material in Italy, we send the material to one factory in France, and our frames are handmade in France in one factory from start to finish. So that gives us great quality control. It also at the beginning of June, means that our factory is back up and running. And we were already receiving deliveries again, which is fantastic. And it's the simplest of things, you know, talking to our clients about the fact that we can actually we're here, we're open, we have stock we are delivering so many people challenge just on those simple, basic tenets. So that's been great for us. In terms of how people shop, I think we've just seen so much more online shopping, right? You know, the places where people would normally go for glasses large, closed, or just open for emergency. And so people are coming to us and they're buying, but they're also asking questions, as I was saying before, they're trying to find out. They're trying that they're digging into this whole process of how you buy eyewear and how you buy lenses and look the mysteries being scraped away, which is fantastic. That's what it should be. We do a thing on our website, a lot fun called personal shopper. And we just invite people to submit a photograph or two and write a few things about who they are, where they go, where they hang out. And one of our designers have come back and give them some advice or some choices about about my way that they might wear. And it's it's it's really fun. It's a really interesting experience. And sometimes people think you know, not sure I would have gone down that route but let's give it a go. And it's it's really illuminating to see how people respond to that. So yeah, people are buying really differently. It's not something that people would have done before we do have thought of going to an eyewear stylist and asking for advice. I deny, yeah. Now, I guess it's just changed a lot of landscapes for a lot of companies. But for someone that's going to be online, looking for eyewear, seeing how they can engage with that product, and, you know, like you say, it's going to be an investment for them. So seeing what kind of decisions they have to go through in their head in that process before they, you know, before they buy for you is, it's interesting. And having said how big the company, Jason, um, we, we would have turned over if it wasn't, if it wasn't for the virus, we probably would have turned over about 2 million this year. Wow. I mean, I wasn't gonna be crass enough money. But in terms of personnel, I was, I don't mind it was fine. It gives me a small company as a great people. We have a UK office and a US office. And then we have a team of reps all over the world. Right. I think, in terms of the US, I saw that Robert Downey Jr. is a patron of coke and coke. Yeah. When did you find out about that? We got some notification from his stylist. Back in it was in December. And it was just before he was going out to promote the Doolittle film. So stylist wrote to us and just said he's a big fan of your glasses. And I think you're going to see him wearing a few pairs in the very near future. And he was amazing. I mean, he must have I think he had about eight different pairs that he wore on different occasions for different things. And in the way that I was describing before that, you know, he's always in a brilliant mood. And he's always, you know, really upbeat, nothing else. But the different glasses created entirely different looks each time. It was absolutely amazing. And we have the relationships that we have with celebrities are really interesting. I mean, we we never, we have never, and we will never pay a celebrity to wear eyeglasses. That's I find that totally crass. And I think that it shows, you know, he shows every time when someone is paid to wear a product. And I don't like that, you know, if you're wearing glasses, and they're not right on you, they're not natural and you you're not enjoying wearing them. It's very, very visible. But you know what I mean? There are some cracking people out there right now wearing eyeglasses very, very, very visibly very clearly. A Nicholas Pennock, who is just in for life on the new ABC programme, British actor over in the States. He's wearing eyeglasses a lot. And he just looks amazing. Really comfortable. And that's just, that's the secrets about being comfortable. Yeah. But I mean, is there anybody else out there that you'd go? Oh, I would just love to get the glasses on this guy or this lady? Well, yeah, no, there were. There were lots of people and we kind of don't work that way. We'll wait for them to come to us. So I would never sort of lightly drop hints. But But, you know, there are lots of really great glasses. Whereas I often think that it's nice to look at people who don't wear glasses now. And often because they don't really they don't feel comfortable, or they haven't seen anything that they want to wear. So I can give me another example as well. Actually. You've got you. We've always had an issue getting on to sports people, professional athletes, okay. because traditionally, eyewear is kind of represented a weakness of health, if you like, it's a kind of a scene, isn't it? Right. So it's been it's been difficult to do that. But so I don't know if you're into American football, but Jason Bell, who presents the podcast I've seen, I've seen Jason bell. He started wearing eyeglasses recently. And so having somebody in the world of sport who's visibly and confidently wearing great eyewear is such a great message to people. Yeah, it's brilliant. Yeah, I'd never thought about that, to be honest with you. But I mean, outside of the world of snooker, so I grew up in at snooker with you know, it seemed like everybody else had a pair of glasses. Dennis Taylor, of course, would have the famous upside down ones. Yeah. Ray Reardon would have jam jars. But I remember speaking to Mark Webber. He's a Formula One driver, I think at the time, but he just switched over to Lamont and he was getting to the late 30s. So kind of the embers of his career as it were. And I was saying how much you know, what's the lifespan? Or you know, the expectancy how much longer can you go on driving Formula One cars and, and racing. I mean, it's, you're in good, Nick, you're in good shape. He goes, Well, you've only got a couple of years and then you have you know, your eye starts to diminish you and you have to be off by a couple of millimetres on a turn. Yeah. And I said so. How's it working out for you and then he just pulled out his pair of glasses and I bought yours. And the very next week he retired. He made the announcement. didn't give me the scoop. But he kind of gave me the subliminal scoop by pulling out his glasses. Yeah. Yes, true. Yeah. So what can we expect from Kirk next Jason or any other collaborations or releases? what's what's down the pipe? Well, I think I think the, I mean, we're having conversations about collaborations, and they're always very interesting because they're not necessarily with fashion people. It's about working with like minded brands. So, I mean, we had a great collaboration with john Smedley a little while back. Yeah, and that's fashion claim down there. The directory is sorry. Ian McLean, the managing director Yeah, yeah. Really nice guy. Fantastic brands, great people. And that was a lovely Association. And we were in conversations other people but clearly the the Coronavirus conversation you kind of takes precedence at the moment. So it's difficult for people to make commitments, but there will be some, I mean, we're constantly working on our own new product, we have releases, which we've actually got an R in stock for the autumn as well. Big new sunglass collection coming out later on, and lots of things happening. But you know, our our role is to inspire and excite through eyewear. And we will continue to do that we'll continue to surprise people with with what people bought you can actually wear and how you can feel when you wear glasses. That's what we're after. Excellent. Well, listen, thanks so much for taking me through the journey of coke and coke. I encourage everyone to have a look on the website and check out these glasses. And, and also follow on the social on the Instagram and the Twitter and just take a look at what you guys are doing over there. Thanks so much, Jason. Thank you for having me. It's brilliant. Nice to meet you too. Take care yourself. Thank you. Hi. Jason Kirk, there. Thank you, Jason. Make sure you're checking out the website Kirkland. kirk.com. Take a look at them glasses, man. They're pretty cool. And all look at that cool enough of Robert Downey Jr. cool enough for you. That's it from me. Thank you all for listening again. The shownotes will be over on menswear. style.co.uk I'll be back for another interview soon enough. In the meantime, remember, it's only fashion people and you're never fully dressed with a smile.