EINSTOFFEN // Stand Tall, Run Free
EINSTOFFEN is an eyewear brand that defies categorization and refuses to be pigeon-holed. The name of the Swiss label is as unique as the eclectic product selection that now covers the full gamut of eyewear, streetwear, and watches. The driving force behind this expansive portfolio is the insistence of EINSTOFFEN’s founders to create exactly as they see fit. With that said, the label is truly Unchained, which was also the motto of their latest Spring collection. We learn more about the rock ‘n roll spirit, the importance of independent retailers, and the new collection Stand Tall, Run Free from company founder Philippe Rieder.
Hello Philippe, EINSTOFFEN is quite an unusual name for an eyewear label. What’s the origin story?
Agreed, the name of the label goes back to the inception of our company. We started out in 2008 with textile manufacturing and ran our own web shop for our goods. And since we were literally ‘covering’ people in fabric (‘stoff’ in German), we came up with the wordplay ‘EINSTOFFEN’. Although our selection has greatly expanded since then, we like to stay true to our roots.
When you say ‘we’, who exactly is part of your company?
EINSTOFFEN consists of Ramon and Raphael Büsser, Christian Gisler and myself. All of us are passionate globetrotters and have been friends forever. But we all come from different backgrounds. For instance, I studied history before starting the brand. But the idea of doing our own thing became just too captivating at some point. Ultimately, we just went for it.
Quite successfully so, as we now know. Today, EINSTOFFEN is equally known for eyewear and streetwear. How did you arrive at this unique product mix?
Although our t-shirt import business wasn’t too shabby, we soon realized that we also wanted to design our own products. The whole thing gained momentum when we launched our own ‘Shirts for Heroes’ series inspired by iconic movie characters. Later on, we also started creating our own eyewear and watches.
Was there a particular product that helped achieve your breakthrough?
In 2012, we started producing eyewear from wood. That gave us a strong boost within a single year. From that point onwards, we were all able to make a living from our company. Today, we are also producing eyewear from titanium, stone and acetate-wood combinations. We’ve practically evolved into a full-fledged eyewear label. We continue to sell tees and shirts, though, and have also added watches to our portfolio in 2016.
Are your designs guided by a specific company philosophy?
The name of our recent Spring collections pretty much sums it up, Unchained. We treasure our freedom and independence. The company is still 100-percent owned by us. So that affords us a pretty rock ‘n roll spirit. We don’t want to distort our brand, which is why we prefer working with other independent businesses instead of huge chains and corporations. Plus, EINSTOFFEN has always been defined by the contrast between nature and urbanity. The locations of our two headquarters, in St. Gallen and Berlin, are a nice reflection of this fact. Our love for nature also plays into the choice of sustainable materials used in our products. Additionally, we also take great efforts to manufacture in a fair manner and avoid overproduction.
You mentioned independence as a guiding principle. What’s the added value from being an entirely self-funded operation?
Mostly being able to do exactly what’s on our mind, without having to justify it in front of others. For example, we realized a life-long dream three years ago by designing watches. Any investor would have probably advised against it, but we happened to like them. At the same time, having too much investment capital at your disposal can make people a bit overconfident at times. But because we’ve grown organically, we know exactly what’s feasible for us. Perhaps it’s also our ‘Swissness’ shining through…
Well, your products are definitely liked beyond Switzerland. Is there a typical EINSTOFFEN customer?
Our customers are surprisingly diverse. From the urban hipster crowd to nature-loving retirees in the countryside, they cover all bases. If I had to call it, our typical customers probably look like this: Between 25 and 45, well-educated with a broad range of interests including culture, nature, music and cinema.
In the beginning stages you were a pure-play B2C-brand selling exclusively to end customers directly. How has that changed?
When we started selling our first sunglasses via our web shop about seven years ago, we immediately received a response from opticians and sales reps. But the [optical] market was completely new to us. Especially in recent years, it took a lot of listening, learning, and optimizing on our part in order to survive in the optical business. Ultimately, we got the hang of it. Also thanks to active support from our customers and partners.
How important are independent stores for you?
It was independent opticians who first believed in us back in the day and put their money on a completely new product from a young and, at that point, relatively inexperienced company. Many of them have remained loyal to us over the years. Without their support we could have never turned our idea into reality. Today, international specialty retail accounts for more than 80 percent of our sales.
Speaking of the market, digital disruption is far more advanced in other industries compared to eyewear…
That is indeed the case. We ourselves have experienced in the fashion business what happens when large players, for reasons of profit maximization, destroy specialty retail. Many of the stores that used to sell our shirts years ago are no longer in business. Much to the disadvantage of customers. We hope that the eyewear trade will be spared a similar fate, which is why we continue to bank on independent opticians.
But can a similar development in our business even be prevented at this point?
As a matter of fact, people have to be prepared for it up to a certain point. But every evolution also opens up opportunities. Opticians still have significant advantages, because an eyewear frame is after all only a half-finished product. It needs to be adjusted to the individual customer in a process involving medical expertise and craftsmanship. Opticians continue to be highly trained specialists that are indispensable for producing the optimal pair of glasses for a customer. On top of that, eyeglasses are more than mere fashion accessories but actually worn every single day. That’s why people still tend to invest more time and welcome expert counseling in their decisions. Even most of the online labels ended up opening stationary retail stores, which can be seen as a positive development.
Your brand continues to operate its own online store, although business from independent opticians has picked up. What’s the advantage of having an online storefront?
Nowadays we mostly only sell watches and apparel on our online store. That remains an important part of EINSTOFFEN and keeps us connected to our roots. Plus, it’s symbiotic. All other products, our online store, as well as all connected advertising initiatives have an effect on our overall branding that’s not to be underestimated. Our heightened brand awareness generates new customers for our partner opticians. And after all, the majority of our selection is not available for purchase online. For EINSTOFFEN, the proximity to our end customers and keeping our fingers on the pulse of fashion trends and online retail remains of utmost importance. It’s what allows us to anticipate future developments on the optical market so much better.
Let’s talk about your upcoming collection. It’s titled Stand Tall, Run Free and consists of 56 models. How would you describe the look and feel of the collection?
The new shapes are a bit more extravagant and turned out a bit more rounded, overall. For the first time, we implemented the micro engravings underneath the acetate in this collection. This creates a rather elegant look, which once again underlines our little obsession with delicate details.
What about your use of materials and colorways?
In these segments, it’s a straightforward continuation of the evolution started in the Unchained collection. When it comes to materials, this means combinations of acetate and wood and stylish titanium models with hidden details like engravings, embossing and tinted lateral shields.
In terms of colorways, we’re placing a strong focus on matted metal colors. We think that they better suit our original look. Our acetate colors are also matched to the wooden temples and therefore remain in the natural color spectrum. Soft shades of blue, grey, gold and silver dominate next to classic, wooden brown hues.
Thank you Philippe! Find out more here.
Brand Profile at Spectr.