RAEN // Eyewear with a Californian Mindset

Inspired by the Classics, Handmade for Today

RAEN is an American eyewear label with deep roots in design and surf style. The brand with the enigmatic name achieves a fine balance between laid-back California style on one hand, and a clear focus on consistent product offerings based on a classic design aesthetic on the other. As more and more well-stocked opticians are discovering RAEN’s product portfolio, it’s high time for a SPECTR interview with Co-founder and Design Director Jordan Percy.

Hi Jordan, what does the name RAEN mean?

Our background before RAEN was brand building and working with a diverse range of clients. When we had the idea of creating a brand, we knew we wanted the name to be a word that was a bit cryptic. Ideally, one syllable, short and memorable, with a connection to water. And RAEN is where we landed. Short, memorable, a bit of mystery[DV1] .

Speaking of brand building, please tell us a little bit about the origins of RAEN and the people behind the brand.

RAEN was started in 2009 by Justin and Jeremy Heit and me. We brought together a combination of creative experience from design and branding to professional surfing. We had previously done some eyewear design for clients, and that inspired us to think about how we would position our own brand.

What did you think of the market offering at the time?

In the surf and lifestyle channel in California, the styles used to be very sporty. All those injected wrap frames that often lacked craftmanship and real quality… We wanted to bring change to the market. As an independent eyewear company, RAEN continues to forge a new path focused on the use of premium materials in order to create carefully crafted and attainable, Modern Classics eyewear, where the California spirit seeps into every pair.

Does this spirit make RAEN a typical and original California product?

RAEN has now turned into a global eyewear brand, but the influence of what is around us here at home is always present in our collection. I feel there are clear aspects of what we are and what we are not. We are handmade. California. Surf. Independent. Fashion. We are relaxed, inspired, positive, adventurous, earnest and sophisticated with some edge. California is a giant place, it is extremely diverse geographically and culturally, so I think it is not possible to have just one “California” label and identity. But hopefully our vision comes through in the feeling of the brand, and its interpretation around the world.  

Does RAEN even cater to the whole ‘sports’ category?

Although we are a brand rooted in surf culture and an authentic, coastal California lifestyle, we are not a sporty, performance-oriented brand. This was a deliberate decision that we made early on. We created a brand that would specialize in designing and building Modern Classics, pieces that are informed by classic design, but are all together contemporary, and will stand the test of time. This is our design ethos.

How important is an authentic presentation for you?

Authenticity has been associated with RAEN many times from people outside of the brand. We are a pure eyewear company. We live the lifestyle we portray. We don’t do any other product categories and are not a license brand. Most importantly, our visual communication has a unique signature and aesthetic, and our customers are identifying and resonating with our style. We hope our imagery feels like we are portraying our friends and family, as often that is what it is.

As the Design Director, do you have a personal hand in the visual representation of the brand?

Aside from design, photography is something that I have always been passionate about, and something I am really pouring a lot of energy into personally at the moment. Leading the design process from inception, through development to finished goods, then getting to photograph it and capturing these moments with our friends and family to be shared with the world is just about as authentic as it gets.

Do you have a personal background with eyeglasses?

Oddly enough, no! I sort of wandered into it. By that I mean that I have always been fond of eyewear and have collected it for a long time. But I have never received any technical training in eyewear design or industrial design processes for that matter. I am a graphic designer by training, and believe that a trained eye, and more importantly, a trained creative mind, can apply the same processes and design-oriented problem solving to any product or category, so long as enough time and attention are dedicated to the pursuit.

You have probably dedicated a lot of time to the pursuit since starting RAEN, right?

When we decided to launch an eyewear brand, I began absorbing everything I could to understand how to make the best handmade eyewear for our market. This is achieved through studying the design of successful products on the front end, and just as importantly, understanding the artisanship and production processes in producing the final product. That last part is more important in the end, but it takes time and experience, there are no shortcuts there.

While there are no shortcuts, aren’t the possibilities in eyewear design rather limited by nature? What keeps it exciting for you?

Ah yes, but limitation is what makes design interesting! It’s a game of millimeters. You need to create a range of products that for the most part, are one size and need to satisfy a vast range of face shapes, sizes, and so on. So, it’s a big geometry puzzle, and beyond the physical design, the bigger picture challenge is architecting and managing a product lineup that compliments and does not compete with itself to satisfy that wide range of faces.

What role does the optical collection play for RAEN?

We started out as a sunglass brand, but we have evolved into a full eyewear company, with our optical frames taking equal collection space and share of sales. We will be building on the optical frame collection in the coming seasons and years. We know that we have so much potential for growth in the eyewear channel, so this really is our focus. We will be bringing to market higher end goods, expanding our offering with titanium frames, and more.

How does that fit into your overall value proposition?

I think the important thing for us at RAEN is to understand that we are not limited by a certain price or price level, but to always offer the consumer more than they expected at that given price point. That is true throughout our collection, whether it be our entry point or top-of-the-line frames.

For which target group do you design your brand?

Our consumer is looking for a bit of California sunshine in their lives. Our core customers tend to be young professionals, creatives, and students. All people who appreciate the classics, but aren’t looking for ‘vintage’, so they are seeking out the Modern Classic aesthetic and design philosophy that we champion. The familiar and new, all at once.

Is it important to you that your glasses are ‘attainable’?

We’re very conscious not to price out our customers, we want to offer a sort of attainable ‘luxury’. A frame that feels special, has nice attention to detail – but nothing superfluous – uses quality hardware that can stand the test of time, but doesn’t break the bank. It’s a balancing act, you see. We have arrived at a nice, sweet spot in terms of pricing. We’re not in a race to make the cheapest product, because we insist on quality and longevity, and fairness for our customers and suppliers.

How do you manage to maintain that fairness?

Well, we for sure never take shortcuts in product quality. Our offering always gets compared to much more expensive brands, and that is exactly where we want to be positioned. We manage it by finding a balance in selecting quality raw materials, manufacturers that are exceptionally good at what they do, and working within the scope of options we have to support our price targets. It’s not easy. It’s quite easy to make beautiful product where budget is not a barrier, no holds barred. It’s a vastly different goal to make top quality product that has some limitations to it, but it’s those limitations that push you to get truly creative and, in many ways, quietly innovative.

On that note, what makes your eyewear recognizable in general?

Over the years, we have gained a formidable reputation for our high-quality acetate sunglasses. Aesthetically, our most popular ‘essential’ styles manifest our Modern Classic design ethos best. Notable examples of this are our »Remmy«, »Wiley« and »Norie« styles. These frames are lightweight, easy to wear, fit a broad range of faces and tastes, and resonate in markets around the world. I would say that the typical characteristic of all our frames is that they are stylish but not pretentious. They are high quality, feel great in hand, and even better when worn.

You mentioned acetate. Are there certain materials you prefer to work with?

We do love to work with acetate. I love the feel of the finished product in your hand, it has a certain welcoming ‘warmth’ to it, whereas injected plastics and metals tend to feel ‘cold’. So, from the beginning, we wanted to really build a reputation as experts in acetate. As a brand, we have been very consistent working with this material. For myself personally, I’ve put a lot of effort into learning about its strengths and weaknesses and working with our design team to push those strengths as the brand grows and evolves.

What about other materials?

We have branched out into other materials. A few years ago, we expanded into metal frames, and this Fall launched our first titanium optical collection. So, we continue to evolve and take small steps.

Why the careful approach?

We want to do it right, introducing new materials, testing processes, learning from the market’s reaction, and building upon that season by season. We have received fantastic feedback on our titanium collection in EU markets with great sales results so far, and we have products in the pipeline to grow and expand that collection in the coming seasons. It’s extremely exciting for us!

Your glasses are handmade, but what does that mean in today’s manufacturing environment?

It’s true that the industry is embracing more mechanized processes, but overall, the production of eyewear requires a great deal of craftsmanship to execute. For example, the initial front cuts and temples are now done by CNC, where in the past they may have been cut with a jig. But the magic of well-made eyewear is in all the steps that follow: Hand polishing, forming and sculpting those flat acetate parts into wearable, three-dimensional works of art.

How do you ensure a good adaptability of your glasses to the wearer?

We have some tricks. For example, we like to use beveling as a nice aesthetic detail, but it also allows us to scoop away material in key areas to allow for better fitting and make the overall frame lighter weight. By removing material here and there in the design, you can make a frame that is visually pleasing, and more comfortable and adaptable to the customer.

What can customers and opticians look forward to in the new collection?

We are extremely excited about our Titanium Collection. We launched this first in our EU market in Fall 20 and will be bringing it home to the US for Spring 21. We will be expanding these offerings in both Spring and Fall 21. Looking ahead, we will grow this offering into our Sun collection as well. It’s an exciting new chapter for our brand.

Looking ahead, do you see yourself as a label for the fashion boutique or the optical store?

RAEN is at home in every retail channel it chooses to be. We have started in the Surf and Lifestyle channel, but over the past five to six years, we have evolved into a complete optical brand, performing very well in the optical channel and with the optical frames category. This is also true for the sunglass category. The pure fashion boutique channel is not our primary focus.

And finally, why is the optical channel important for you at this point?

We focus strongly on the independent optical channel, because we are an alternative brand that sets independent opticians apart from large optical chains. Obviously, the optical channel is the place where optical frames are being sold, and as such, it is essential for us to bring the product to the market.

Thanks for the interview.

Erfahrt mehr über diese spannende Brand unter: https://raen.eu/

Brand Profile at SPECTR. And don’t forget to head over to FAVR where the Cali Brand RAEN is also available!

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