Despite the countless e-commerce ventures across Europe, only a small proportion of them are specializing in quality eyewear at an affordable price-point.
There’s Berlin-headquartered online optician Mister Spex, which has been actively tackling this space since 2007 and currently operates in seven EU markets. Another key player focused on expanding its European footprint is UK company MyOptique Group, which was founded in 2004 and is behind brands such as GlassesDirect and Sunglasses Shop.
Other than that, it seems to be a relatively untapped space in the region.
There's a new kid on the block
Enter Ace & Tate: An Amsterdam-based eyewear brand that designs, produces and sells eyewear online for an all-inclusive price of €98 (or £89 in the UK). At the moment, the site is available in The Netherlands, Germany and the UK.
Launched in June 2013 by Mark de Lange and Camiel de Lange van Bergen, Ace & Tate was created on the premise that changing eyewear should be as easy as changing sneakers. One look at the website in comparison to its more established rivals and it's obvious that Ace & Tate is targeting a younger, more style-conscious consumer.
“We sell prescription and non-prescription eyewear and work slightly differently from regular optical retailers,” said de Lange in an interview with Tech.eu. “We sell primarily online and have a flat-fee structure. This essentially means that when you buy a pair of glasses with us, you won’t be confronted with any extra costs for coatings or prescription lenses that come with traditional optical retailers. Shipping and returns are both free and we have a very flexible return policy.”
In addition, Ace & Tate offers a ‘Home Try-on’ service, which lets buyers select up to four pairs of glasses that are delivered to the customers for free to test out in the comfort of their own homes for five days.
If the model sounds strikingly similar, that’s probably because New York-based eyewear retailer Warby Parker has been spearheading this approach in North America since 2010.
Europe’s answer to Warby Parker?
Touted as the ‘most innovative company 2015’ by Fast Company, Warby Parker arrived on the scene five years ago and shook up the North American eyewear market with its hip brand and well-designed glasses sold at non-designer prices (most cost $95). Its ‘Home Try-on’ program, which enables customers to select five pairs of glasses for spin at home for five days for free, became a hallmark for the eyewear startup.
The US company, which has garnered around $115.5 million in funding to date, attributes designing glasses in-house and bypassing the traditional supply chain as reasons for being able to offer such low prices. As well as its distinct style, Warby Parker is known for its socially conscious initiatives. In particular, its ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’ program.
Though Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal mentioned plans to ship to the UK in 2012, it has yet to touch down on European soil. Currently, the company’s site is available in the US and Canada.
Ace & Tate’s target consumer, production process and eyewear collections are uncannily similar to Warby Parker’s – down to the Dutch startup’s do-good initiatives. Which leads to the inevitable question: Was Warby Parker an inspiration for Ace & Tate?
De Lange, who worked in the finance industry in The Netherlands prior to starting Ace & Tate, said, “When I formulated the idea, I started testing the base hypothesis and looking at other brands that were doing so. A couple of brands were coming up at that time and obviously I saw what Warby Parker was doing – they popped up in my research and I couldn’t miss them. It was the first validation that what I was thinking of would actually be possible.”
After that, de Lange started pitching the idea to some people he respected and trusted, who gave him good feedback, and that’s when he decided to pursue the venture. De Lange van Bergen, who had previous stints at Rocket Internet and Facebook, was brought on as Ace & Tate co-founder after the two met through a friend and bounced some ideas off each other.
Like Warby Parker, Ace & Tate designs its collections in-house and is connected to a supplier in Italy. De Lange explained that the Dutch startup can keep prices low because they “do everything themselves” and don’t need to pay licensing fees or share margins.
“I think in the end, we are like Warby Parker is as Tommy Hilfiger is to Ralph Lauren. We’re two brands that sell eyewear and both use online as a primary channel,” said De Lange matter-of-factly.
Next on the roadmap? Experimenting and growing
At the moment, the Ace & Tate team is around 25 people based in Amsterdam with a couple more going through on-boarding. As for funding, the startup has received €1.5 million in angel investment and de Lange told me that they’re being approached more and more. “It’s something that we’re considering,” he added when asked whether the company wants to raise more funding in the future.
Although Ace & Tate is inherently an online-first company, the team have also experimented with an offline pop-up shop in Berlin and sees opportunities in this realm. In Germany, the brand has received a healthy amount of attention from the online fashion community.
So what's next on the company roadmap ?
“We are looking at new collections and might be experimenting with some new materials as well. Everything has been acetate up to now – which is where our name Ace & Tate comes from,” De Lange responded. “Also, I see us penetrating the German market more and more – so really being available there in cities and offline."
Despite the undeniable similarities between Ace & Tate and Warby Parker, it looks like the Dutch company is determined to a pave a path of its own in the coming years.
Featured image credit: A screenshot from the Ace & Tate website