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Monday / June 24.
HomemifashionUnafraid to Design Vaanyard Eyewear

Unafraid to Design Vaanyard Eyewear

There’s a new kid in town. Their name is Vaanyard. Born in Newtown, Sydney, and manufactured in Japan, this architecturally inspired brand is attracting all genders in Australia and overseas. And expansion is on the horizon.

There aren’t many young Australian designers of eyewear. It’s a limited pool. So, when I was presented with the opportunity to interview Paul Gilligan and Lee Kan of Vaanyard Eyewear, I jumped at the chance. As an added bonus, we were meeting at a café in Newtown, Sydney. My old stomping ground.

Paul and Lee are partners in business and in life. As a team, their talents are complementary.

Paul has experience in high fashion branding and marketing – before establishing Vaanyard he worked with G-Star in variety of international roles. Lee trained and worked as an architect for six years before transitioning to graphic design – the contractual and administrative processes that came with designing buildings was frustrating when all he wanted to do was “sit at a desk and draw”.

Coincidentally, they developed an interest in eyewear at around about the same time. Paul was headhunted to work with an eyewear company and Lee’s youngest brother moved in with them to study optometry. They got talking. Vaanyard was born.

That was about three years ago and already they have over 30 doors in Australia and a much bigger following overseas, with distributors in South Korea, Israel, the United States, Hong Kong, and South Africa. They also have growing interest in Germany and France, and a dedicated following in Scandinavia.

Being the Difference

There are a few Vaanyard qualities that are driving this expanding following, as Lee explained.

“We started off with an intention to design eyewear for guys. Our whole proposition was to take the basic styles a guy would wear and add some extra details: a thicker acetate, sharper bevelling, the style name on the top of the frame, and some graphic details inspired by typography.

“We didn’t want to be too ‘out there’, especially as we were initially targeting guys, who tend to be more conservative when it comes to eyewear… it’s a difficult market to break into.”

Interestingly, now that Vaanyard is in store, they’re finding that both men and women are attracted to the frames. In fact, there’s about a 50:50 split in sales.

“That happened by mistake but it’s working so I guess we’ll stick to the design process,” commented Paul.

Another accidental development was the focus on optical. “We started out with the intention of developing a fashion brand, with a focus on sunglasses. When COVID hit, we pivoted and started to focus more on optical. Now we’re 60% optical and 40% sun, and while we plan to have a bit more fun designing more sun frames in the future, optical will always be a core part of our business,” he said.

A Subtle Evolution of Ideas

Lee said it takes about 18 months to develop a new frame, with the initial design taking anywhere from two to six months to refine.

“I’m a perfectionist. I come up with a design and then I start making subtle adjustments – by the millimetre – until we’re happy with the shape, the angles etc. Then we’ll make up some simple prototypes with no details.

Once we’re happy with the prototype, we get samples made by our manufacturing partners.”

Paul added, “Because of the thicker profile, our frames look heavy, and they have a nice hand feel. When people pick them up, they expect them to be heavy, but in fact our heaviest frame is only 41 grams – that’s still three grams lighter than the original Wayfarer.

“We work hard with our partners to get the balance right so they fit well and feel good on the face.”

Boutique Production

With an aim to create a boutique product, Vaanyard has its frames manufactured from a selection of “aged” Japanese acetate as well as acetates from the Italian manufacturer, LA/ES.

The ageing process, achieved by allowing the acetate to sit for 300 days before manufacture, is important, Paul explained, because it allows for shrinkage.

“All acetate shrinks, so over time you’ll find the wire cores in some acetate temples become exposed. By allowing the acetate to shrink before it is used in the manufacturing process, we can be confident that this won’t happen.”

Another point of difference is the sun lenses, which are sourced from a small French laboratory, although Vaanyard is currently exploring options to use sun lenses manufactured in Japan.

“We want to be boutique – a high end brand – and with that in mind we also choose our components carefully. Our hinges are either OBE or Visottica – we could strip a few dollars out of the manufacturing process by going elsewhere, but it’s not something we’re prepared to do.”

Expanding The Offer

The recommended retail price for Vaanyard’s current range sits “at the bottom of the top” end of the market, which Paul said, provides optometrists with a “solid mark-up opportunity. We want each practice to make money so we pass on the highest possible margin opportunity to them that we can.”

Into the future, Paul is adamant that every new collection will have continuity. “We’ve established an aesthetic that we will hold on to – the signature of a brand is so important – but within that we can do much more.”

And this is what drives him.

“There are so many opportunities for independent eyewear design, here in Australia and overseas – that’s what excites me about this industry,” he said.

For Lee, the most exciting aspect of designing eyewear is seeing someone on the street wearing a Vaanyard frame.

“I was in Melbourne a few weeks ago and saw a woman walking down the street. She was incredibly stylish – black pants, a poncho – very Melbourne. And she was wearing one of my frames. We’re starting to see them on the streets of Sydney too.”

Celebrating Success

Last month Vaanyard became one of six designer brands to be showcased in a new optical practice in Armadale, Melbourne, called Eye St.

“We’re the only Australian brand in the practice, sitting alongside international brands like Balmain, Thiery Lasry, Linda Farrow, Garrett Leight, and Dita,” said Paul. “This is evidence of how far we’ve come in the first three years of our operation and I believe it’s something we’ve been able to achieve because we’ve done it ourselves. Being financially independent gives us full control of what we create and how it’s created – we try to think ahead of the trends and go left of centre.”

Lee agreed. “This new door is hugely exciting for us. It’s something to celebrate. Of course, as a start-up, and having gone back to living like students while we took time to get up and running, we celebrate all our successes, big and small…”

I can’t wait to see what Vaanyard is celebrating in another 12 months’ time.

Visit: vaanyard.com or call (AUS) 0403 583 560.