Future is bright for wooden shades
“We had so many meetings with people who told us that what we were trying to do was impossible,” said 24-year-old Craig Cameron-Mackintosh about the initial challenges he faced with business partner Chris Elliot (22) in trying to create the seemingly impossible.
Less than a year down the line, however, their idea of creating sartorially savvy, lightweight, wooden-framed sunglasses has proven to be not only possible but—with numerous local retailers clamouring for their attention and international distributors lining and signing up—also highly lucrative.
Under the clever moniker of “Hout Couture”, the initial range of eye-wear, the frames of which are made of recycled bamboo, has grown so much in popularity that Elliot now confesses, with a mixture of pride and exhaustion, that “it’s actually come to the point where we are finding it difficult to keep up with demand”.
The brand was initially conceived as part of a university project in which they were tasked with creating an “innovative, environmentally friendly product not currently available in South Africa”.
Market for eco-friendly shades
The idea of pursuing it as a bona fide business soon took hold when the pair realised there was indeed a hipster-led, next-trend-hungry market for their brand of chic, eco-friendly shades.
The two were all too aware of the fickle nature of this kind of appreciation and Cameron-Mackintosh admitted that “because we don’t want to be seen as a mere trend, we really had to up our game”.
To avoid the pitfalls of operating in an industry with a notoriously short attention span, the two have resolved to improve the range and “move in a more refined direction”, as Elliot put it.
The new range, which will be launched on March 19, branches out from the now ubiquitous Wayfarer shape to include, among other styles, an adaption of the classic aviator style, a quirky oval-shaped design as well as more classic designs for prescription lenses. “It will be an upgrade in look and feel as well as quality. The frames will be of a higher quality and will feature better-quality salvaged woods such as cherry and some zebrawood.”
Does the fact that zebrawood is considered a threatened species not fly in the face of their supposed commitment to being ‘friendlier to the Earth’? “Honestly, we source our wood responsibly and use only off-cuts that come from flooring and boxing companies.”
Not completely eco-friendly
Given the nature of the product, chinks in the brand’s eco-friendly armour are certainly inevitable. Said Elliot: “Certain parts of the product, such as the hinges and lenses, can’t be made locally from recycled products. So in a way to offset this, we started the “Plant a Seed” project, through which we plant a seed for every pair of our sunglasses sold.”
The project, which they work on with the local Worldwide Fund for Nature’s eco-schools programme, educates schoolchildren about the importance of trees and “living lightly on our planet” through sustainable practices.
What the pair is finding particularly exciting, however, is a recent distribution deal with Dutch business partners, which will result in the sunglasses being sold in stores in Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Although they are also talking to other distributors, Cameron-Mackintosh admitted that this particular deal took no effort on their part at all. “We were approached by these guys after one of them came to Cape Town on holiday and bought a pair of our shades. He approached his business partner and then approached us.”
And although they are remaining silent about the details of the other international deals in the pipeline, what they will say is that plans are afoot for the United Kingdom, the United States and Dubai.
For now, though, they are focusing on the signing of their first international distribution deal.
Said Cameron-Mackintosh: “What is great about the timing of this deal is that it will introduce us to the European market just as its summer hits. It sort of feels as though we are chasing the sun.”
For more information go to houtcouture.com