If you’ve ever seen the frames made by these guys you will never forget them. I decided to interview them both because they work so closely together. Roger designs Roger Eye Design. Keith is the US distributor for Roger Eye Design, who also has his own company/line called Rain City Eyewear and deeply resonates with me because I live in Seattle, which is what Rain City is based on. I’ve known Keith for over 10 years as a rep and I re-ran into him a few years back at the Eyewear After Party here in Seattle. I was happy to see him and that he had his own line, that happened to be awesome. I was also super stoked to see and try on the Roger line. They both have different feels and vibes but they are all just so stinkin’ cool…. as are Roger and Keith. Here were my questions and who/what their answers were.
How did the Roger brand come to be? (Roger)
In 1987, when I began as an optician in Holland, I started to notice that some shapes and frames left me unsatisfied. While fitting a frame with a customer I often found myself thinking about ways it could be better. The whole thing took a hold of me. I started putting my ideas on paper, drawing modifications to improve a shape or even creating totally different styles. Over time, I naturally became interested in producing my ideas.
I started attending optical fairs in Europe, looking for people who could help me get my ideas from paper to actual eyewear. It took me some time, but I eventually started to freelance design for several European eyewear brands. Freelancing was great experience, as I needed to be able to satisfy different requirements for different clients, not to simply design what I wanted. I built experience and learned as I went. It was also invaluable to be working as an optician. I learned to listen to consumers from a design perspective while fitting eyewear and helping them with choices. Designing as a working optician exposed me to all aspects of the process, from conception, to design, production, distribution, and the consumer.
As things progressed, I became more and more interested in designing my own line. At the time, choices were extremely limited for people with small PD’s, to the point that we were going to the kid’s board to find frames for adults! Seeing the need, I started the line with an initial focus on smaller PD’s. As should be no surprise, color is really important to me, and that led me to South Korean manufacturers who are known for their color work with stainless steel. I have been with the same manufacturing team there from the beginning, which I truly value. Once all of this came together, in January of 2007, Roger Eye Design was launched and we did our first Silmo Paris Fair that same year, to great success!
What is the story behind the cartoon collection? It is one of a kind! (Roger)
The answer is very simple actually, and I suppose it tells you a little about how I design. I was thinking about how one would draw an eyewear frame on paper and how to realize that look in an actual frame . . . yeah . . . like that! It all evolved from that simple thought. Calling the frames “Cartoon Eyewear” and naming them after Dutch cartoon characters all followed from the initial thought.
What is your process for creating new frames or series’? (Roger)
Well, I think what I said about the Cartoon frames provides an example of the kinds of ideas that spark me to start something interesting. More generally, I am always thinking about shapes, colors and materials and how they might interplay with a design.
The other aspect is that I’m always thinking as an optician. I can’t help it – that’s just who I am. As an optician I’m concerned with what works on a face. I listen to people, how they feel, what they long for, what they do or don’t want. Even if I’m not physically with someone, I’m having that conversation in my head. I always have styles in the collection that really shouldn’t push someone out of their comfort zone. But I also enjoy creating designs that push people into something they would never choose from the board themselves. I enjoy showing people that they can be the person they saw wearing that cool frame with that amazing color. With a little confidence you can pull it off!
Once I have something on paper, and then on the computer, and I’m happy with it, I’ll have samples made. Sometimes things work right away. Other times I find myself tinkering, changing size or width a little here or there, playing with color.
Tell me about the Pop Art limited series (Roger)
The POPart frames are really a riff from the cartoon frames. I started thinking about comic books and the Pop Art scene from the 50’s and 60’s. Some of that art experimented with the Ben Day Dot printing process from classic comic books. The frames are hand painted with a dot pattern inspired by this. With this past year being so crazy and uncertain, I wanted to do something fun, but I needed to do something limited. So we did a limited edition series with the POPart’s, just to do something fun and special.
How did the two of you get together for U.S. distribution? (Roger)
Stan Jonasson (the founder, and owner at the time, of Eyes on Fremont in Seattle) brought us together. I met Stan at Silmo Paris. He really loved my frames and bought them at the show. As opticians we really connected. He also helped me to get the Roger collection into several optical stores in the US as he knew a number of like-minded optical owners on the lookout for small independent eyewear brands.
Keith used to be a frame rep for other brands, what made you want to make the change? (Keith)
When Stan introduced me to Roger, he knew I was interested in starting my own business. Roger had some clients in the US and he needed help with the transactional side of things; payments, exchanges, returns and the like were hard to manage from Europe. Initially, it was an easy way to start something small that I could do alongside my work as a rep. I was told that Roger would only sell to certain “boutique” shops and wouldn’t be a big thing here in the US. However, as I started showing the line to some of my customers, I began to realize that I was in the middle of something special.
We took Roger to VEE in 2012 and we were blown away with the response. It was hard to keep up . . . we were literally writing orders as the lights were being turned out on the last night of the show! From there things continued to grow until I had to make a decision, continue to rep, or make my distribution company my full-time job. As these things can often work, my sales as an independent rep were really taking off, but in the end, my heart was with Roger and distribution.
Do Roger and Rain City share designers? (Keith)
Roger Eye Design is well named, as Roger Hoppenbrouwers is the sole designer.
We started Rain City with a small group of local optical professionals. Stan Jonasson led the design process at the start. Early on, we did some collaborations with Nate at Eyes On Fremont, and the folks there have always been a big help. As we’ve grown, we’ve had contributions from different sources. Eryka Schiller has designed some really great frames for us. Nowadays, Roger is increasingly involved. Ironically, the man who doesn’t do acetates (Roger) has been contributing mightily with our acetate models, an emphasis for us of late.
Rain City has a wide range of styles – what is your design “criteria”? (Keith)
A primary goal with Rain City is a diverse collection. When we design we are looking to do things that interest us. If it isn’t fun and a little different, we are probably not all that interested. This doesn’t mean that we won’t go for a classic look, but we’ve got to be excited to do something. From the beginning we’ve wanted to avoid the trap of developing a certain “look” for the line that, while it may be cool, winds up characterizing the line to the point that all the frames look the same. We’ve seen this happen with different lines over the years.
A fun challenge for us is staying diverse while still having the collection feel cohesive. We do have an overall aesthetic we associate with Seattle and the PNW that all of our designers have been a part of and understand. As hard as that may be to explain to someone outside our bubble, it is a real thing (to us anyway!), and I think that helps keep things feeling cohesive.
Rain City’s social media photos are taken all over Seattle – how do you do it all? (Keith)
Well, as with all things Rain City, a number of people contribute. Keith often finds himself walking around Seattle and the Pacific NW; many of the pics are simply a result of his rambles. Our graphic designer, Roland, is an artist with a background in architecture and, although he lives out of state, he loves to visit Seattle and he has taken some of our more striking photos. Two opticians in town also take many of our more professional shots, John Beursken and Christain Jones. Eryka Schiller often coordinates our photo shoots with models. Definitely a group effort!
What do you say to an office who may think your frames are too bold or funky to have? (Keith)
If this happens, it’s usually around Roger – less often with Rain City. The most common initial reaction with Roger is “OMG! I have to have these!”
What we’ve learned in representing Roger over the years is that opticians often limit themselves and lack confidence. We hear, “Oh, we just don’t have the clientele for that” or “I love them, but only a few people would ever buy this.” The irony is that where a shop is located and who walks in the door has almost nothing to do with an office’s success with the line. We have very successful offices in small towns or rural areas that you would never imagine as the “typical” location for Roger. Offices have success with Roger because they love the line, they understand the magic that happens when a customer starts playing with Roger frames, and they can’t wait to share their enthusiasm with their folks.
If an office “has to have these!” but selling this kind of frame is new to them, then we have a conversation. Our job is to work with our customers to help them understand what it takes for success and to support them. If this is a new direction, it can take time and effort with Roger. You need a few folks to walk out the door wearing the frames. People see them and ask (yes, even strangers!) about their glasses, and slowly, folks start coming in looking for some of those “cool” frames. It is crucial that the opticians on the floor prompt customers to try Roger so that they understand the possibilities. If you want frames that “sell themselves,” Roger isn’t for you. If you want to generate excitement and to have fun with your customers, then we have the line for you. There is nothing more fun than selling Roger frames when you’ve found your groove!
If we show our lines to a prospect and they aren’t excited (I know, hard to imagine!), we usually leave things be. Lukewarm doesn’t work for us. With our lines, we are truly looking for people who get what we do and what we’re about. When we find that, we know things will work.
What is in the works for your lines? (Roger and Keith)
With Roger my aim is pretty constant, I want to continually surprise customers with fun designs. I will always design from the perspective of an optician who values color, distinct shapes, and a little rebelliousness. I know what the trends are, but I prefer to go my own direction. Roger is a collection for those who want to express their personality, make a statement, or who are simply done with boring mass-produced eyewear. Oh, and it better be fun!
With Rain City we are really excited about where we are right now. Being smaller and independent, it took us some time to round the collection into what it is now, and we’re just getting started. We are especially proud of our more recent releases and super excited with what we have in the works. We’ve been focusing on upping our acetate game for a while now and believe this really shows in our latest models. More of the same and some new projects (not ready for prime time) in the works!