Philly sunglasses start-up takes aim at industry big shots - October 08 2014

Barring Eyewear was just featured on!  See article below.

Philly sunglasses start-up takes aim at industry big shots

Layla A. Jones,

Posted: Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 10:56 AM

Barring Eyewear might become your new favorite sunglasses brand, and not for the traditional style reasons you might think.

Eric Fiore, Joseph Hwang and Frank Tucci created the company out of adversity and desperation. The team, all Philadelphia students or former students with Hwang and Fiore currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania, were already conjuring up moneymaking methods but shared sorrow is what propelled the brand into fruition.

“The catalyst to us making this from an idea into a business is that tragedy struck amongst our [families’], with cancer,” Hwang said.

In April, Hwang’s aunt died from stomach cancer. Hwang’s last words to his aunt promised he’d find a cure for the disease. Tucci had an unfortunate succession of family members succumb to cancer including grandparents, an aunt, uncle and two cousins in 2013. Fiore’s grandfather also lost the battle with cancer around the same time. The team soon realized it was time to fight.

“We’re business men. We’re not doctors,” Hwang said. By utilizing their business background’s through effective fundraising, Barring’s mission is to help fund cancer research. $1 of every sunglass sale on Barring’s Indiegogo campaign goes to the American Cancer Society with a goal to increase the dollar amount contributed as sales increase.

Thus, Hwang and his co-founders are gunning for the Warby Parker’s and Ray-Ban’s of the industry with more distinct realism than the optimistic aspiration one might expect.

And why not?

Shades aren’t a super saturated industry, with only a few corporations owning almost all the well-known brands. Luxottica controls 80 percent of the major names including heavy-hitters, like Ray-Ban, while Safilo licenses eyewear by Hugo Boss and Banana Republic among others. 

“It’s like an oligarchy,” Hwang said during a phone interview. “Two big companies control everything.”

But for Barring Eyewear’s co-founders, with Chris “Kim” Chhour added to the team later, that only gives them more of a chance to upset the sunglasses status quo. Take that, Ray-Ban signature aviators! 

To distinguish themselves, Barring boasts using unique, high-quality materials like rose and zebrawood, black walnut, high-grade acetate and, to come, leather. That’s right; leather eyewear frames are coming your way, Philly.

“The next two designs are absolutely gorgeous,” Hwang gushed. And, oh, the quality! Rosewood, for example, is pest-resistant. “If you were to jump into a pool of termites, they won’t eat your sunglasses,” explained Hwang. Because why wouldn’t you jump into a pool of termites with your sunglasses on? 

After separating themselves with their “luxury” materials, Barring aimed to take it a step further by cutting out the middleman and going straight to the manufacturer themselves.

It takes more work—the sunglasses’ resources come from all over the world before being sent back to 42nd and Baring streets, the location of the apartment that doubles as the team’s studio, to be packaged and distributed—but all this, said Hwang, is why they can keep their sunglasses priced between $90 and $120. This is compared to their closest quality competitor, Ray-Ban, whose cheapest frames run for about $120 to $300.

Eventually Barring wants to manufacture in the City of Brotherly love, but for now, low production costs keep them overseas.

“We’re Philadelphia guys, we went to Philadelphia schools, and that’s were our roots are from—Philadelphia,” said Hwang. Philly inspires everything, from the brand’s name—a play on Baring Street—to sunglasses with names like "Fairmount."

To the co-founders, it doesn’t matter that Barring is a microscopic start-up, launched seven months after the team came up with the idea with no marketing budget and only a crucial Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign to help sell the shades.

All of this effort—Hwang said the team worked from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. every night during the months preceding the company’s launch—is ultimately to fund cancer research and change the way business is done. If their model works, Barring hopes it can turn cutthroat capitalistic gain into an opportunity for philanthropy.

“Every pitch, every effort, every design is based off that,” Hwang said. “It’s life or death for us. And we need to find a way to find a cure.”