Not only are eyeglasses a necessity for many who suffer from poor or impaired vision, they’re also a stylish accessory worth changing as the occasion demands. For many, one or two pairs will do—perhaps a durable, reliable set for at-home use and ones for use in public. But, Mark de Lange, the founder and CEO of Amsterdam-based eyewear purveyor Ace & Tate (recently launched in the US), insists that we believe this solely because the experience of buying, and also producing, glasses remains—with the exception of de Lange’s label and a few others—unnecessarily limiting. The entry point for quality frames and lenses proves too high to appease our desire to own more than one. Plus, it traditionally takes exceedingly long for prescriptions to be assessed, submitted, and subsequently filled.
“I was in New York back in late 2011,” de Lange prefaces, “and we stayed at the SoHo Grand and passed this optical store every day. On our last day, there was a sale sign out front and I decided to walk in and buy a pair and then we went back to the Netherlands. It stuck with me—how difficult that process was, how expensive it was, and how long it took. Right then, buying a pair of eyewear was as fun as going to the dentist for a root canal—although it’s a super-fun and cool accessory. My feeling was, ‘Why can’t this be a more lightweight, fun, and cheaper process?'”
The process of being prescribed glasses—because visual impairment is such a multifaceted medical issue—is largely sterile and reasonably-priced premium design is severely limited. There are hundreds of luxury eyewear brands eager to sell $500+ frames and then the very act of filling in the lenses tacks on hundreds of additional dollars.
“The design aspect is so important because it is such a personal thing. If you switch from contacts to a pair of frames, or you switch from a heavy pair of frames to a lighter pair of frames, it really fundamentally changes your physical appearance,” de Lange explains.
Frames are largely unmatched in their potential for personal expression and overall visibility. Like sneakers, which also have a very literal and obvious function, glasses are an artistic canvas—especially as one that complements or contrasts clothes. “I would wear an outfit when I would have an important business meeting, and I would change to go out with friends. But, the thing that would remain constant was the frame on my face, although that is the one thing that probably changes the perception of me the most,” de Lange explains.
Available starting at $108, Ace & Tate’s glasses range from the expressive to the subdued and subsequently timeless. A roster of best sellers remains omnipresent, and an ever-changing rotation of generally unisex seasonal picks, collaborations, and limited-edition releases pop in and out of their online store. Right now, their web shop offers 193 different optical frames to choose from. The designs fit a diverse array of skin tones, face shapes and, most importantly, personal styles.
It’s such a process to get a new pair of glasses, but also it’s super-expensive to get a good pair. It’s basically a trade-off between paying less and getting a shit product or buying something that is very good and thoughtfully designed at a super-high price.
“Most people just wear one pair—which, actually, is quite strange. It would be the same as wearing [if required] the same suit every day,” de Lange adds. “It’s largely influenced by the fact that it’s such a process to get a new pair of glasses, but also it’s super-expensive to get a good pair. It’s basically a trade-off between paying less and getting a shit product or buying something that is very good and thoughtfully designed at a super-high price. But, it’s not necessary for it to be that way. You can make a very good product for a very good price. That’s where we are.”
Since the company launched in 2013, and rapidly expanded across Europe in the years that followed, de Lange has leveraged his experience as the son and grandson of longtime members of the shoe business into a mastery of the modern supply chain. This mastery affords Ace & Tate a bit of liberty in how they price their products, resulting in cheaper bills for consumers. The in-house team of designers conceptualizes each frame, and correspondents from the company oversee every step of each design’s production—working directly with the manufacturer to ensure costs are kept low. It’s the direct-to-consumer formula that many adhere to but few maintain with a sense of authenticity.
“My grandfather, my father, my uncles, they all worked in the shoe business—both representing brands and owning and operating stores. Most of it was on the luxury end and skewed toward male, so a lot of time was spent in shoe factories. I think that kind of shapes, now that I’m looking back, my desire to work with a physical product. But then when I went to school, I ended up working at a small investment company. Then I worked for a private investor and got very involved with some of his companies, and that sort of fueled my desire to operate my own company at some point. A light bulb sort of went off, and it ticked all of the boxes—an idea for physical products done in a new way that the internet and technology made possible.”
Technology and innovation forged a clear path for the inception of Ace & Tate, but it also has offered the company an opportunity to evolve. Developments in material design—namely the betterment of available bio acetate—let de Lange offer more sustainable products at prices that do not alienate their existing customer base. Plus, he remains unashamed to admit that the company is still in the midst of betterment itself.
“Starting in the second quarter of this year, we won’t order any new styles that are non bio acetate,” de Lange tells CH. “Over the past couple of years we’ve done a lot of work in the background, on becoming a more responsible company and decreasing our footprint. We’re becoming more and more comfortable speaking about that. We’re making steps every month to become a better company. I think that’s definitely the future for us. It’s challenging, but once you make the steps it really is rewarding.”
Images courtesy of Ace & Tate