In 2010, KARMOIE was launched as a Norwegian designer label with a special focus. While the company’s frames represent the highest in design mastery and quality, the two company founders Kirsten and Lars Iversen enhanced their brand DNA to achieve a specific goal that goes beyond selling eyewear: Creating long-lasting positive effects by providing people in the most remote corners of the world with access to corrective eyewear.
Kirsten, your KARMOIE brand operates from a strong sense of social responsibility. What is your personal motivation?
Kirsten: We are grateful to have grown up in a society with abundant possibilities and access to all the help we might need. We were raised in families that value helping one another and have had good role models that are eager to assist friends and family in need. So for us, gratitude and giving back really go together. Honestly, knowing how blessed you are without wanting to show generosity in return feels shallow.
Are there brands from other businesses areas you admire for their social commitment?
K: Houdini Sportswear, Yacutinga Lodge, LUSH cosmetics and Nudie Jeans are brands we admire because they view sustainability and responsibility as an integral part of their business. They communicate these values in a clear, uncompromising way that raises awareness and motivates their customers.
Which came first? The idea to establish an eyewear brand or the whish to set up a company that helps your charitable engagement?
Lars: We knew that we wanted to build our company upon giving back and acting responsibly. After that, it did not take long to see that working with eyewear would be the right fit for us. We’ve always loved glasses and sunglasses and the global need for refractive correction struck us as something that we wanted to help with.
In what way is your social responsibility reflected in your brand identity and DNA?
L: Sustainability and responsibility are integral parts of our work. It permeates every decision we make, the obvious ones and the less apparent ones. Quality, style, sustainability – it’s all connected.
In which area did you decide to focus your social engagement?
K: In a world where more than 700 million people do not have access to the refractive correction they need, providing eye care was an intuitive choice. So far, we have partnered with Eyejusters and select non-profit organizations to provide adjustable eyewear to communities where logistics are a challenge..
How exactly does it work? Do you donate part of your profits?
K: We donate one pair of corrective glasses for every pair of KARMOIE glasses or sunglasses we sell. We wanted “giving back” to be an intrinsic part of our product rather than dependent on our financial success. Our customers can feel confident that their purchase is doing good, regardless of the challenges we face as a business.
Aside from financial support, did you ever help on one of these projects personally?
L: In 2014, we joined as volunteers on a Sea Mercy rotation on the islands of the Northern Lau Group in Fiji. Within two weeks, the team was able to serve nearly 500 patients on six different islands. We’d anchor the catamaran and traverse onto the islands on a small dingy. We could pack all our equipment for the day in one box. In 2012, we worked with Mobile Health International, a medical outreach program, in South Sudan. The team travelled to the village of Pure to offer medical aid and perform vision tests. There was no building that could accommodate us, so we stuck the distance vision chart to the 4×4 vehicle and placed a chair in the shade of a tree. This worked fine and shows how suited the Eyejusters are in poor, rural areas where flexibility is key.
What made you choose these projects?
L: These projects are good examples of situations where the Eyejusters work well: areas where infrastructure is a main challenge. The projects were also very different and experiencing both hands-on has taught us a lot.
Which experiences made a lasting impression on you?
K: In South Sudan we met a young mother with her baby daughter. The mother’s near vision was very poor. We fitted her with positive power Eyejusters and the improvement was impressive. Not only was she able to see some of the smaller symbols on the testing card, she could finally see her daughter clearly as she was holding her in her arms.
On the island of Cicia, we asked the teenagers from the local high school to stop by and get their vision tested. One of them was Josefini and while she really wanted glasses, she did not need them. She kept hanging around the compound, so we asked her to help us as an interpreter. She started out as an interpreter, caught an interest in the process and stuck around the rest of the day participating in testing and dispensing glasses. She was smart and graceful, and the patients loved seeing one of their own as an active part of the eye care team.
On one of the smallest island in Fiji, we met a girl who told us that she had worn glasses up until a few years ago when her pair was irreparably broken. Ever since, she had tried to manage without glasses, because she had no opportunity to go to an optometrist and get a new pair of glasses. She knew what she had been missing out on and seeing her get her eyesight back was really moving.
So you get to experience that your work actually makes a difference?
L: As most business owners will agree, creating your own company and starting up can at times be quite exhausting. The fact that we can feel great about what we do and how we give back, is invaluable when it comes to motivating us to push through.
Are you planning any comparable activities for the future?
L: For 2018 we are looking to set up a project in Mexico together with our distributors in Mexico City as well as keeping our commitments to existing projects. Sea Mercy in particular is an organization that is growing and extending the regions they can reach and we want to keep up our donations to the islanders in the South Pacific.
How important is your social commitment to your clients?
L: Many opticians that carry KARMOIE also make the trip to areas where they volunteer their expertise. Our way of doing business echoes their own social commitment and adds another way they can be a part of making a positive impact.
How would you describe the people who choose KARMOIE Eyewear?
K: Our customers are people who are into timeless, discreet design with a touch of individuality, who value the craftsmanship and durability of our frames and who want to surround themselves with things they cherish and that reflect their values. They appreciate the experience of getting their glasses from an optician that has a curated and interesting selection of frames.
Back to eyewear design: What can we expect from KARMOIE next season?
K: We are releasing two new styles, one feminine and one more masculine. Both styles are definitely in the KARMOIE aesthetic with classic, clean lines and soft natural colors.
Thank you and all the best for you, your company and your charitable projects.
More Info: www.karmoie.com