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Ace & Tate: 'It feels a little like being a band of pirates'

16 May 2014

Fashion

INTERVIEW_ Ace & Tate, the online based Dutch eyewear company best known for its affordable yet stylish frames, is currently revolutionizing the way consumers think about glasses. By cutting out the 'middlemen', such as opticians, franchises and retailers, Ace & Tate is able to offer high quality,

handcrafted glasses, for just 89 pounds, including lenses.

FashionUnited sat down to talk to de Lange at the company's head quarters in Amsterdam to learn more about how Ace & Tate is currently changing the face of the eyewear industry.

FashionUnited:

What is the idea behind Ace & Tate?
Mark de Lange: Well, first of all I just didn't understand why I had thirty pairs of sneakers and only one pair of glasses. Which is pretty remarkable, considering the fact that it's the most in your face accessory you have, literally. From my point of view [glasses] are just another accessory. So that was something that I thought could be different. I wanted to create the best quality product I could for the best possible price. I didn't want to sacrifice quality for the sake of price, I wanted to have the complete package. And I think only if you can marry that, then you can have a cool proposition. The product is the heart of the company, and if it fails on quality and design, then the rest is not important anymore.

It's not rocket science, it's just that the optical industry is very very old fashioned, and basically as a consumer you just get screwed, it doesn't make any sense. There is obviously a service component that high street opticians can offer, especially for people who have difficult eyes or multi-focal issues, but if you just have a regular prescription like I have, - 1.75, which is nothing special then why pay so much more? We do single vision, but cylinders and such are not a problem. We go up to ten as well for people with poor vision.

The name Ace & Tate came from acetate, the material our eyewear frames are made out of. I was looking for a name and was looking at the material and saw the name and it was that simple. It was just about the product, which works well for us because we are all about our product.

Why did you launch Ace & Tate online?
ML: I couldn't find something I liked at the regular high street optician and I sometimes did find frames I liked at the more expensive optical boutiques, but I wasn't able to find something for every single set occasion. I wasn't able to find something that fit my style needs and my budget at the same time. The style of the frames available is not what I prefer, the quality of the budget opticians is not how you would like it and the whole process itself is something I would rather skip all together. Having someone who is completely different style wise, advising you and breathing down your neck to buy a pair of glasses, I would basically just run off.

That is something else I thought could be different, so that's why I introduced the home trial package, which enables you to order up to four pairs of frames to try on at home, no shipping costs involved. This enables you to be able to test drive the frame and wear them to the club and get your friends opinions and see if you actually like it. Then if you like one, you can order one, and if not you can send them all back for free.

Why can you only order four frames at a time?
ML: It's basically a logistical thing. We are quite a small company and we don't have that much stock. Right now, the home trial is sold out almost around the clock. Also, if the box gets any bigger, then logistically it's just a nightmare to get it to fit through the mail box. That was one of the parameters we wanted to adhere to, because that makes it very easy for the customer. They don't have to stay at home for the mail man, you can just get it through your mail box and then try them on for a week.

We send everything from the Netherlands. We have a distribution deal, with a third-party logistics company and they ship everything for us. The home trial package is all done internally, from our head office and the actual order fulfillment is actually done with a partner.

How

did you manage to find your manufacturers?
ML: Oh that was a real nightmare. When I started working on this project I went to a couple of optical fairs in Europe. So there are two large optical fairs in Europe. One is Mido and the other is Silmo, in Milan and Paris and I went there to try and talk people into working with us. I was laughed at by at least thirty stands, who told me to go somewhere else or forget it all together. Then there were a couple of companies who were mildly interested and it became a research project to find out which company would suit our needs best and have the best quality frames and be able to serve our needs. Then we went to work with one company, Northern Italy, a family-owed business and that's when we decided to do our first collection. We actually work with a Chinese company now as well, also family owned and we have been looking at a second European factory as well to try and spread the production a little. The funny thing is that the Chinese factory is not really cheaper, but they do create really high quality products and it's incredible what they make there. They have a real level of expertise.

Where are the eyewear frames designed?
ML: It all happens here, at our office. What we usually do is that we work with a freelance designer and work around a conceptual theme for a collection which translated into different shapes and colors. So we come up with a concept, we sketch everything here and then we usually laser cut that in carton and fit them in the office. That gives us a first sense if the design will work or not. Then we refine the design in a technical drawing, and from that a tech-pack gets made. From there on we make a first sample, and then we make the last tweeks. Then we do a production sample and then we decide yes or no to take it into production. I think it's really important to spend a lot of time on [design].

For us it's important to be as friendly as possible to the people around us and the environment but it's not our core focus. A good stylish product is our core focus. And within that strategy and content, if we are able to do something that is environmentally friendly, such as our Black is the New Green collection, then we will.

How do you feel about your company growing so quickly?
ML: It's a trip. It can be challenging because my role has changed and will change. I need to manage more and more, something that is completely alien to me. But it's a lot of fun. We are pretty small still, our company is very independent and still very much in its infancy, although we have been growing rapidly since we've been live. We went from having 3 employees to 14 at our head office, including 3 interns. We get new people in regularly, it's high paced, yeah it's very cool actually. It's a young group of people, everyone's excited, we all work really hard and it feels a little like being a band of pirates.

Why did you launch out of Amsterdam?
ML: Amsterdam is my home town, I love it here. The Dutch market is pretty compact, but there is a lot to learn here because of the way that the country is built up. It's supposedly a very good test market for other markets. But it was most a convenience thing. I have my network here, I know people here, I understand the culture which is also important I think.

You officially launched in the UK last November, why did you choose to bring your concept to London?
ML: It's basically a personal thing again. I love London, I think it's an incredibly cool city. In certain respects the market is quite similar to that in Amsterdam. And it's, well I wouldn't say THE fashion capital of Europe but its at least one of the main fashion capitals of Europe. So for us as a style brand, as I think we are more a personal style company rather than a high fashion or seasonal fashion, but for us it's a good place to be. So far things are going really well in London, we've had some really nice media attention and the UK people seem to like our frames as well, so that's a good thing to see. We see people ordering our frames with lenses, but with zero prescription...that's the fashion accessory thing.

You display currently your frames in certain stores in the Netherlands, will you be introducing that concept to the UK?
ML: What our strategy is offline, is that we work with stores we like that sell the brands we like and then we have our frames on display there, like Hutspot in Amsterdam. People can try them on and see how they look, but the ordering is always done online, via our website. We have a couple of stores that we work with in Holland, and we are working now on expanding that to the UK. It's a resource thing. It's been so busy here that we haven't found the time yet to do the research, find the stores, come up with a proposition for the stores, actually go to the stores and make the sales for the floor space and talk to the people.

Are there any style differences between the UK and the Netherlands?
ML: Basically the same styles that seem to work in the Netherlands, work well in the UK. However I think if you would go to the Italian or Chinese market, where things are much more logo-based then you would need a different type of frame. But within the UK and the Netherlands, things are similar. It would be interesting to see how things go in Germany, when we launch our site in Berlin there next month.

You are launching your German site next month, but why did you decide to launch out of Berlin?
ML: We don't really launch in countries, but rather in metropolitan cities. We talked to a lot of people who we trust, in the media, public relations offices, press, and it was basically between Hamburg and Berlin. But then the balance fell towards Berlin, and I love the city. It's a large city, a good place for us to be. But Germany is such a huge country, it is the plan to go to other cities there, both online and offline. The fact that we offer the chance to trial something for free, without any strings attached will help us in the German market and set us apart. But only time will tell. For now I am confident that it will work out.

What comes after the Berlin launch? Any plans for the future/store openings?
ML: We are thinking about a couple of different cities in Europe. But for now, for us to be in three countries is pretty challenging, from a company perspective, so that wouldn't be for the next six months at least. There is so much ground to be gained in Europe here, that is challenging on one hand, to stay close to something that is culturally close to what we do, so I think for now that will be the focus for us. But definitely, I can see us opening our own store. It is not something that is set in stone, but it something that is very much up in the air and something I see for our future. It is something that is being discussed at the moment.

Lastly, how do your competitors, such as high street opticians view Ace & Tate?
ML: Well in the UK we haven't really gotten any negative feedback or anything, but in The Netherlands they really hate us. They are not really happy with us. There was one optician who told us he hoped that we would burn down. I am not sure what exactly he hoped would burn down, but that was interesting. But that really shows that we are on the right path.

Photos: Mark de Lange by Ester Grass Vergara, Ace & Tate Lookbook

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