Designer Interview

By: FashWire
Mar 15, 2024 10:58 AM

When did you know you wanted to become a designer?

As a teenager, it was album covers my mother had of Diana Ross and Grace Jones. I can remember as far back as middle school I was obsessed with style. I remember subscribing to fashion magazines – Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Ebony, and Jet and clipping out the fashion pages and making collages.

What did the beginnings of Vontelle Eyewear look like?

In 2019, my Co-Founder Nancey and I were hand-drawing glasses (we are not engineers) and buying fabric to choose colors and prints. We launched our website during the pandemic – in October 2020, we were in virtual meetings all the time meeting with manufacturers to see our vision. The vision is and was clear to us… but it is very difficult to explain to companies who have been producing the same size glasses for centuries. We want to deconstruct them and reconstruct them – make them better fitting.

“Our goal is to produce the best quality product. We want our customers to equate Vontélle with world-class treatment, integrity, and trust.”

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in everything! A sunny day, a rainy day, a book, something I see on social media, colors, and shapes. I still look at multiple fashion magazines and meet with other entrepreneurs who have also inspired us to keep going!

How would you describe the style you aim for your brand?

Eyewear is a medical necessity, so we focus on anyone who needs eyeglasses and wants them to be better fitting as they are worn all day. We want our styles to show their personality. The brand style is vibrant, colorful, bold, cultural (prints and patterns), and fun!

What made you want to design eyewear?

I lost a pair of glasses. I went to look for a replacement and they all looked the same. But most importantly they were tight on my face. I called my best friend to complain, and she also lost a pair of glasses. We started talking and four years later we are still working on making the best-fitting pair of glasses. Our goal is to change how you see and be seen. Eyewear Culture Starts Here!

What sets your brand apart from the rest?

For centuries, many of us have been wearing ill-fitting glasses. From our research and personal experiences, many optical wearers have endured the painful line across our noses, indentation on the cheeks, and headaches. Thus, Vontélle created comfortable fitting eyewear with wider bridges for your nose, longer temples for behind the ears, and larger lenses for high cheekbones; plus, we added luxurious materials, colors, and patterns.

What brand values are most important for Vontelle Eyewear?

Integrity and Trust – we create each design, and we oversee all prototypes, production, press, etc. Our goal is to produce the best quality product. We want our customers to equate Vontélle with world-class treatment, integrity, and trust.

Customer Service, Communication, and Transparency - Vontélle responds to every phone call, email, DM, text, etc. We want all customers to be respected.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to a new designer?

Don’t give up! Our first samples were horrible. I cried. I was ready to give up, but we got on another Zoom call and laid it out to our manufacturer, and he got it the second and third time. We had to be patient. We were doing something new.... changing the sizing and adding prints.

“We want to make glasses for everyone with eyes – we want anyone who puts on our glasses to feel brave, bold, and beautiful but most importantly comfortable.”

What was your previous work experience before launching your brand?

I have amassed a strong professional career which has developed my leadership skills, business, and financial acumen. I have been involved in funding procurements as a Budget Analyst for the New York City Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, and wrote grants for the New York City Department of Health; managed financial mergers as a Consultant for Accenture; oversaw the NYC public assistance budget of $6.1 billion as the Deputy Commissioner at Human Resources Administration; worked at Harlem and Bellevue Hospitals in key financial positions before becoming the Chief Financial Officer to the Department of Education School of Support Services and at Health + Hospitals Corporation - Metropolitan Hospital and Queens Hospital Centers and One Brooklyn Health System - Interfaith Hospital Center.

What was the toughest circumstance you overcame when just starting your business?

I wouldn’t say tough, but we had to figure it out. Entrepreneurship is about figuring it out – every day. We initially launched our website on the WIX platform. But early on we decided not to only sell the eyewear but to also partner with a lab to do prescriptions. We wanted to offer our community an affordable option. We learned one day when a customer was trying to buy glasses with their prescription that we did not have the correct authorization to sell eye prescriptions on the website – as they only allowed the glasses – not the prescription because it’s medical. It took me 30 minutes to reach out to our bank to accept payments via Zelle so we started processing prescription orders manually. We also had to call several numbers, but we got the medical code (within the hour), and it took us a month before we left WIX and moved to Shopify which allowed medical equipment to be purchased on their platform. We overcame it.... but it wasn’t easy, but we found workarounds.

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to fail or make a mistake. You will make mistakes, but you will learn from them. No one knows it all.

Do you have a passion other than fashion or design?

Traveling, eating good food, and wearing a great outfit (I’m back to fashion) but when you look good you feel good. I truly believe it.

What is the most important thing you would like your brand to be recognized for?

We want to disrupt the eyewear industry. We want to make glasses for everyone with eyes – we want anyone who puts on our glasses to feel brave, bold, and beautiful but most importantly comfortable. We need inclusivity and representation in every industry. Not everyone is the same size or has the same face/head shape.

What should consumers expect to see next from Vontelle Eyewear?

A few new collaborations and partnerships. We have four new collections coming out in 2024: Commemorative 50th Hip Hop Limited Graffiti collection, DEEMED Flip up Aviator Collection in collaboration with Kadeem Hardison who flip-up glasses inspired by the iconic character Dwayne Wayne from the beloved HBCU Hillman, National Vision Inc, who owns America’s Best stores. Vontelle created, designed & manufactured 15 designs that will be in their 900 stores across the country. And last but not least, Kendra Dandy, in collaboration with Bouffants and Broken Hearts is an artist and illustrator whose work features bright colors and a playful, sassy mood to create a style that’s distinctly her own.

What do you envision for the future of your brand?

World domination! We are now in hundreds of optical shops in the US and the Caribbean but want to expand our distribution to thousands in the US, Caribbean, and internationally into South America, Africa, UAE, and Asia.

Eyewear is not only an extension of your wardrobe, but a necessary medical device. Vontélle understands that eyewear is essential and realizes the importance of quality, thus wants to help with eye health disparities. The National Institute of Health’s National Eye Institute reports that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to have cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy than any other ethnic group. That makes it difficult to wear contacts, so proper-fitting eyewear is crucial. Befittingly, the co-founders have partnered with WIN (Women in Need), the largest provider of family shelter and supportive housing in New York City. The eyewear company has partnered with local optometrists to offer free eye exams, and vision companies to donate free eyeglasses and prescription lenses to women, men, and children in need. With the right partnerships and capital, the goal for the company is limitless and we can continue to give the gift of sight to families in need in homeless shelters nationwide.