Eponym Brings New Integrated Model to Eyewear Branding

By
Andrew Lipovsky, co-founder and CEO of Eponym.
NEW YORK—Eponym, an eyewear licensing company, is on a path that is reinventing the traditional model for brands to enter the eyewear category, using a new approach to work with niche, contemporary fashion labels and bringing partnership in product development, retail support and e-commerce together in new ways to build sales.

Today, Eponym’s business encompasses names such as Steven Alan, a fashion and lifestyle brand, Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet, a Millennial women’s fashion label and Jason Wu, a well-known fashion and apparel designer along with its own brand of eyewear, Classic Specs, and a new readers line, Ottavo.

This young company utilizes a distinctive method as a supplier and collaborator. Eponym embeds with each partner brand’s design team to create their own signature line of eyewear with details unique to the brand. Once the collection is developed, Eponym builds and hosts a custom-designed website, as well as in-store sales support for the brand’s own retail stores and other retail partners, handles all product development and fulfillment, customer service, CRM and even invests in the marketing of the brand.

For co-founder and CEO, Andrew Lipovsky, who previously worked as a financial analyst, everything leading up to the founding of Eponym in 2010 started out at Vision Expo East.

While walking the show floor with a friend whose father is an optometrist, Lipovsky visited major booths like Safilo and Luxottica and was struck by the scope of the larger eyewear companies that produced eyewear for so many brands and by the number of suppliers at the show.

“I think a lot of people who are outside of the business don’t realize how big and significant the eyewear industry is,” Lipovsky said. “Even the folks in the apparel industry who are adjacent to it do not know that eyewear is such a large market. I was floored when I saw that.”

After visiting the show and returning home to look at the clothing brands in his own closet, Lipovsky wondered why those contemporary clothing brands didn’t have eyewear lines. He came to his own conclusion which was that most of the names licensed to larger companies were global brands, offering premium priced products. He saw an opportunity to offer an alternative to smaller specialty labels.

Eponym provides an entirely turnkey solution, focusing on the ability to leverage a brand’s existing base and image instead of creating a brand concept from scratch. This allows fashion brands to design and distribute namesake eyewear directly to consumers under their own eponymous label, but in a new way.

Steve Hess (l) director of sales, optical with Andrew Lipovsky.
Steven Alan apparel website along with the Steven Alan Optical website run by Eponym.
Initially, without any eyewear experience, Lipovsky started his own eyewear line, Classic Specs, selling product at the Brooklyn Flea. Through selling eyewear on weekends in Williamsburg, Lipovsky learned a little bit about consumer attitudes toward eyewear.

A key hire, Kristen Aronsson, joined Eponym as creative director with over a decade of eyewear design and product development, enabling Lipovsky to gain a deeper insight into the eyewear design and sourcing process.

However, clothing designer Steven Alan was Eponym’s first, true licensing project, and the companies worked together to develop both a range of sunglasses and optical frames. In March 2016, Steven Alan renewed its eyewear licensing agreement with Eponym to design, produce and distribute its eyeglasses and sunglasses through March 2021.

“Eponym’s strategic alignment with our business goals and collaborative spirit is a refreshing approach to traditional eyewear licensing. Their innovative retail strategy and e-commerce platform make them the ideal partner to create new awareness for the Steven Alan Optical brand in the coming years,” Alan said.

In August 2016, the company completed a $7 million Series A round of financing led by Tenfore Holdings, Tribeca Venture Partners, RiverPark Ventures and WTI.

The funding gave Eponym the ability to expand its staff by as much as 50 percent, accelerate marketing and retail operations from its existing partners, and build new technology and marketing to support new partner launches. The company struck a partnership with virtual try on company DITTO, to add VTO to brand partners’ retail sites. Eponym also expanded its brand portfolio, signing such brands as Alice + Olivia and Jason Wu to long term deals.

Jason Wu eyewear.
Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet.
In February 2017, Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet launched a full-sized eyewear collection in partnership with Eponym. The two teams collaborated on a playful assortment of eyewear which debuted at the Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet Spring 2017 presentation.

Also in February, established fashion apparel designer Jason Wu, relaunched a new eyewear line in partnership with Eponym.

“Eponym is the perfect partner to create the next generation of Jason Wu Eyewear with a digital-first experience,” said Wu, founder and creative director of his eponymous label. “They understand our need for a refined and expertly detailed product and commerce experience that is both chic and timeless at the same time.”

As Eponym continues to expand, the company recently hired Steve Hess, a sales executive with extensive experience in premium optical sales, signaling the company’s move toward extending its wholesale reach for its brands within the optical channel.

Eponym has carved out a space for smaller contemporary fashion companies to claim their space within the optical channel. By employing techniques and facilitating eyewear distribution with smaller brands in ways conventional licensees don’t, it’s a unique approach.

Lipovsky noted Eponym is different than more traditional licensees. Instead of a brand coming into the market and turning its eyewear distribution over to that wholesale company’s accounts, he said, “We are constructing a new, integrated licensing deal with the brand’s already existing retail structure and then expanding from there in, potentially, all points of sale.”