Retail

Startup STATE Optical Competes With Warby Parker

STATE Optical, a Chicago eyewear startup, is going after the market by hawking high-end glasses that are designed and made in the U.S.

According to news from CNBC, STATE Optical – which was co-founded by Scott Shapiro, Jerry Wolowicz, Marc Franchi and Jason Stanley – launched early last year in Chicago to capitalize on what they saw as a growing demand for U.S.-made products.

"We thought the market was different than it was 20 years ago, not because of patriotism, but because of craft culture and the craft movement," said CEO and co-founder Scott Shapiro in an interview with CNBC. "Chicago fits the unique balance of fashion and sophistication and blue collar. It's about the work and it's about the craft."

In a tribute to its headquarters, the company has named its frames after Chicago streets. Each frame retails for anywhere from $320 to $4,200, and has a small "made in USA" stamp to show it was manufactured domestically. The company does use parts from outside the U.S., namely from Italy and Germany, but does all the manufacturing stateside.

"Fundamentally, it's going to be more difficult and expensive to manufacture in the U.S.," said Shapiro. "The cost of labor is higher even now between the U.S. and China." Still, the executive said that the quality of the products gives STATE a competitive advantage. Executives can easily spot any potential production issues and correct them early, which might not be possible if manufacturing was based in China.

The eyewear market is slated to grow to close to $130 billion around the world, which means competition is fierce. Because STATE is new, it will have the challenge of building brand awareness and convincing people to pay thousands for its frames.

"There are local companies that have large market shares already," said Ayako Homma, senior analyst at Euromonitor International. Still, Shapiro isn’t deterred. He told CNBC that while most people don’t equate "high-end" with "U.S.-made," the company is working to change that. "When [the customer] puts that frame on, that almost likely will be the first time they will try on a frame made in the United States," he said.

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