Lately, I’ve been thinking about my first year in the optical industry, and what I learned during that formative period that led me to spend the next 30 years writing, researching and analyzing this business. I came to optical from the advertising industry, where I learned the basics of marketing, market research and business strategy. In advertising, we called copywriters, art directors and producers “creatives.” That term stuck in my mind when I arrived in optical.

But my understanding of who is actually a “creative” changed once I began meeting people in the field. It quickly became apparent to me that not only are frame designers and marketing people creative, but so are the people who design lenses, equipment and software, run prescription labs and research and develop new products. They are all creative in their own ways, and each contribute to the rich mix of products and services this industry produces. That was a powerful lesson from my first year in optical, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I was curious about what others learned during the first year of their first optical job, and how it helped them advance their career. Here are anecdotes from five industry veterans who shared their experiences with me.

Eden Wexler
Director of Public Relations and Communications, Safilo N.A.

My first job in optical was with Safilo USA…and 20 years later…I’m still here! I started as PR manager of Safilo USA and my current role is director of PR and communications for Safilo N.A. I currently oversee trade publicity, trade advertising and corporate communications for the U.S. and Canada and lend my writing and editing skills to all departments in need.

One of my key learnings was that eyewear could be “sexy” and highly promotable by using celebrities as the vehicle to help create the buzz. After only a few months at Safilo (1999), I secured an Entertainment Weekly story about Madonna’s “aging” eyes after receiving a request from her for reading glasses.

The story caught the eye of a producer of the Donny & Marie (Osmond) national talk show which resulted in me being asked to do an eyewear segment with the duo because Marie found herself over the age of 40 and also in need of reading glasses. After fitting Donny and Marie with glasses in front of millions of people on TV, I never looked back. I aligned Safilo and our brands with high profile celebrities and it paid back in spades in terms of the publicity value and resulting sales achieved.

I honed my skills as a “celebrity sunglass stylist to the stars” and within a year’s time I had done eyewear fittings for hundreds of big name celebrities at their homes, offices, in the hair/makeup trailers of movie and TV sets or at high profile celebrity events.

As a result, Safilo eyewear was featured everywhere from CD covers and music videos to movies and TV shows. I also used my “stylist” credentials in a spokesperson capacity to promote the genre across all media outlets. Up until I arrived at Safilo, I believe that eyewear was truly seen as a medical device. I worked very hard to change that.

David Duralde
Chief Creative Officer, Kenmark Optical

I was the product manager at Eyeworks 3, the international distribution division of l.a.Eyeworks, working with Gai Gherardi and Barbara McReynolds in various capacities in their businesses in the 80s and 90s. It was an exciting time to work with this team starting from 1985 through 1999. They were the pulse of creativity in Los Angeles as they disrupted and agitated our industry’s conventions to such a degree that you can see their impact on eyewear, social influencers and advertising to this day.

They believed the intersection of art, fashion and activism could deliver a product and service story that would be so engaging and imaginative, that it could create a platform for consumerism that was authentic and original. Being mentored by these two audacious, bodacious and magnificent innovators taught me to question everything, not trust the definition of normal and step out in the world to create big bold new ideas. I take this to heart, every day I stare at a blank page and press “go.”

Holly Rush
CEO, Costa Del Mar

I joined the optical industry in 2010 as the SVP sales for Luxottica Wholesale in the U.S. It was an important move for me after nearly a decade with L’Oreal—to have the opportunity to oversee 30 brands and a sales force that was four times the size of the one I led previously—all at a time when a new team was forming with a clear mission to become the market leader and put our customers back at the center of everything we did. Talk about opportunity as a sales leader. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Coming to the optical industry from the outside was definitely overwhelming. Two weeks into my new role, I experienced my first Vision Expo in NYC. I’ll never forget walking onto the show floor for the first time and meeting my sales team at our kick off. You could feel the energy and the excitement in the air. It was clear after those few days in New York, I had made the right choice—to find an opportunity in a growing industry where you can make a real impact and surround yourself with pretty amazing people. I felt blessed.

That said, there was a lot to learn. Having come from a very brand driven, retail focused background, I was fascinated with the dynamic between the patient and their ECP—total trust and loyalty based on quality of care. At the same time, I was excited to learn there was still a huge opportunity to help our customers create a consumer focused, retail experience in the dispensary.

I still believe that the most successful practices in the market today do both really well and continue to differentiate themselves from their competitors and from new disruptors. I’m grateful that my peers, my sales team and my customers took the time to teach me about this amazing industry and were open to my crazy ideas!

Lynn Simmons
Principal, Lynn Simmons Consulting

My father was an optometrist, so I’m sure you can guess where this is headed. My first job was at his practice while I was in high school. Working at my father’s practice allowed me to observe how he presented eyewear to his patients.

He attended optometry school with Bob Levoy and was heavily influenced by Tura, both of which recognize eyewear’s ability to elevate your appearance. As a result, my father’s work spanned far beyond helping patients see. He understood that a great pair of frames could also impact how people view themselves and how they’re seen by others, creating a memorable first impression.

I learned how to present eyewear in a way that underscored their full power, which in turn enabled me to sell multiple pairs at once and drive revenue for the practice.

To this day, I draw on my experience for inspiration in my own design process and to better understand the consumer marketplace. Lynn Simmons Consulting serves as a creative liaison between the technology industry and optical manufacturers.

Pamela Capaldi, FAAO
Director of Professional Services, Brien Holden Vision Institute

I was an orthokeratology patient when I was 16 and in high school, and the optometrist who fit my old PMMA lenses asked if I wanted to work as his receptionist. I went on to learn so much about contact lenses as a result of that year in a small optometric specialty practice. My interest in contact lenses eventually led me to work under contact lens experts such as Dr. Gerald Lowther and Professor Brien Holden, lucky me!

I learned that I wanted to learn more. The doctor offered to “train” me in his practice when I explained that I was enrolling in the optometric technician program at Ferris State College (now the Michigan College of Optometry).

He discouraged me from gaining a higher education but I headed off to college anyway! I was the first woman in my large extended family of 20 cousins to even go to college. I learned that I am a lifelong student. I value those with curious minds and am grateful for the resources to keep learning each and every day.