Canadian Style – Diversity by Design
By Shan Khan
When it comes to style, Canadians have something unique to call their very own. Inspired by the country’s vast landscape and its rich, diverse cultural mosaic, Canada’s fashion and style industries enjoy a rare freedom of expression that informs their work. It’s little surprise, therefore, that Canadian eyewear designs seem to be gaining a lot more attention on the global stage, standing out for their distinctive flair.
It’s also a good time to be an independent eyewear designer. Research shows that the market for eyewear is rebounding from the pandemic setback and is expected to reach pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of 2024 before heading higher. The market’s continued growth is driven by several factors, including:
- an aging population that requires more corrective lenses as their eyesight deteriorates,
- the return of outdoor activities and travel that supports sunglasses sales, and
- more screen time – a by-product of the shift to remote work during the pandemic and the explosion of popular online activities – necessitating protection from blue light and glare.
Globally, the market for optical frames is dominated by a few major players who produce and distribute many of the recognizable mass-market brands under licence. But the big eyewear players aren’t the only ones poised to benefit from the segment’s resurgence in sales. With the pandemic prompting many consumers to re-think their priorities and purchase decisions, independent suppliers are well positioned to benefit.
Overall, consumers are seeking out socially conscious brands and supporting local businesses. Consumers are also increasingly interested in making a fashion statement with their glasses. These trends are creating big opportunities at home and abroad for independent Canadian eyewear designers, many of which are leading the way in terms of style, production techniques and the use of innovative materials.
Here’s a sampling of some notable names on the Canadian eyewear design scene and a snapshot of what they offer:
Bar à lunettes
Drawing on more than three decades of experience in advising clients on the ideal shape, colour, format and style of glasses to suit their needs and personality, Montreal-based optician and entrepreneur Marie-Sophie Dion took the natural step to begin designing eyewear in 2015. Her visually stunning designs are spare on details but feature rich, translucent colours that create a strong impact.
“I have always ‘taken in’ a client by drawing the idea shape in my head before even presenting a frame,” she explains. “It is always with a face as a backdrop that I create my models.”
Marie-Sophie’s custom designs are produced at the firm’s workshop in Saint-Lambert, Quebec. They are available to order via a personalized online consultation process, or in person at the four Bar à lunettes shops located throughout Quebec.
Claudia Alan Inc.
Using a career in fashion and marketing, including senior roles in the eyewear industry as a firm foundation, Carla D’Angelo launched Vancouver-based Claudia Alan Inc. in 2003 with a goal to not only create beautiful frames, but to also make a difference. The firm’s AYA brand, for example, celebrates indigenous art by collaborating with First Nations artists and incorporating their work into its designs. Importantly, Claudia Alan also gives back – through sales of its AYA line of frames, for example, the company has raised more than $100,000 for the OneXOne First Nations school breakfast program to support children in Northern communities.
Faniel creates a full range of limited-edition jewellery frames based on designs that spring from the imagination of Quebec soprano Anne-Marie Faniel and her daughter Clara. These unique and colourful frames are eco-conscious, with several of the styles handmade from recycled acetate that is skillfully blended at the firm’s artistic workshop in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains using a unique and original process.
With a goal to “change how eyewear is done” by making better vision affordable, Toronto-based 6 Optix looks to create high-quality, fashion-forward eyeglass frame designs inspired by the city in which they are located. Each frame is named after a Toronto landmark or subway station and manufactured abroad in countries including Italy, Japan and Korea based on the local industry specialty.
The company was founded by Sunny Braich, whose single mother struggled to afford quality eyewear for him as a child. This experience led him to a focus on developing stylish, durable pieces at an affordable price. “I never sacrifice quality,” says Braich. “I want 6 Optix to represent the pinnacle of quality eyewear, at a price point that is justifiable to the consumer.”
Rapp Eyewear has developed a reputation for bold, hand-made designs that are distributed in small quantities around the world. Founder, optician and eyeglass designer Mel Rapp has been producing limited edition spectacles since the early 2000s using Italian acetate in striking colours, achieving a recognizable and stylish satin finish, and more recently developed an all-titanium line. The frames feature geometric angles and are finished with brushed titanium temples to complete the avant-garde look.
Rapp frames are “worn by people who are not into mass production, who love well-made products, and accept to pay a little more to get them,” says Mel Rapp in explaining how his designs stand apart. “We don’t place a logo or a similar inscription on the frame. Clients pay for an object that they love.”
Inspired by diverse influences including goth and tribal art, Mehran Baghaie, chief designer at Spectacle Eyeworks, has been using his outsized creativity to design distinctive eyewear since 1996. The Vancouver-based company produces hundreds of styles under four distinct labels that are notable for defying convention and pushing the limits of fashion and versatility. Spectacle Eyeworks has won numerous awards for its designs and continues to appeal to consumers who wear glasses for fashion as well as function.
Stellis Eyeworks designs are inspired by historical runway looks, vintage flea market finds, fashion flops, fashion icons and the amalgamation of different cultural styles in North America. Based in Toronto, Stellis is anchored by a design team with more than 40 years of experience in the optical industry. They aim to create frames that push boundaries yet are comfortable to wear and age well over time. The firm’s frames are handmade in Italy in small quantities using high-quality acetate and titanium.
West Groupe Inc.
One of Canada’s largest eyewear design houses, Montreal-based WestGroupe Inc. was founded by Rodney Suliteanu in 1961. Today, his daughter Beverly Suliteanu heads the design and product development team for the family-owned firm. WestGroupe manufactures and distributes sophisticated frames under several distinct in-house brands, including FYSH for women, Evatik for men, KLiiK denmark and the retro-inspired OTP collection.
“Each brand has its own DNA that guides our development,” she points out. “I love playing with interesting and sometimes unexpected color combinations to create new seasonal palettes that keep our brands fresh. We are constantly looking at fashion trends to see how we can incorporate new patterns and detailing into our designs to promote eyewear as a true fashion accessory that allows the consumer to show off their personal style.”
Something for Everyone
Considering the dizzying array of eyewear options available from around the world, there are many reasons to be proud of the creativity and innovation that can be found in our own backyard. So, let’s celebrate the success of Canada’s eyewear design firms, and the rich cultural and geographic diversity they represent.
 Euromonitor International, November 2021.
To read Shan’s article, go to July-August Optik – check it out HERE!