Zenni, the maker of low-cost prescription eyewear, has always been a reliable, if unglamorous, brand. That’s OK with Sean Pate, brand communications officer of Zenni.
“We feel happy with our price points,” he said. “At around 20 to 40 dollars, people can afford to buy 10 pairs where they would only buy one pair somewhere else. People tend to stylize their sunglasses and have multiple pairs for different moods, but for your day-to-day prescription eyewear, it’s not something that people typically invest in.”
Affordability, reliability and consistency have been at the heart of Zenni’s business model for the last 15 years, with some of its glasses selling for as low as $7. But now, the brand is hoping to introduce a little pizzazz to its designs in a bid to expand the range of consumers it reaches. To do this, it has taken a multi-pronged approach: making a strong push into New York retail, recruiting buzzy New York designer Timo Weiland to create a new collection of eyewear, creating a pop-up experience to support the collection and investing in more offline retail in general.
This push is important to the brand as it faces pressure from competing DTC accessory brands, Warby Parker being one of the most notable, who are saturating the market with strong advertising pushes and unique experiential efforts. Zenni is leaning heavily into its collaboration with Weiland and his new designs for the brand to establish itself as a more competitive member of this segment.
The collection, called Out of Office, comes in a variety of colors and styles, all priced at around $30 to $40. The cost, significantly lower than many of the accessories and products produced by Weiland for his own brand, was part of the appeal for the designer.
“I have always loved accessibility,” Weiland said. “It’s a luxurious product, but the price point is something that people can actually afford. As much as I am a uniform person, I love accessorizing. With eyewear, that’s a little more affordable, every day you can have a new option.”
Weiland’s collaboration comes at a transitionary period in the designer’s career. His namesake brand has been on hiatus since March, and he spent his time dabbling in a number of other projects, such as designing staff uniforms for high-end hotel brands. Notably, he has consulted on designs for Zenni for several years, although this is the first time he has designed an entire collection for the brand.
For Zenni, this collaboration has allowed it to reach beyond its typical consumer profile and bring in entirely new segments of customers. This is particularly important as Zenni faces pressure from one of its most prominent competitors, Warby Parker.
Warby Parker has flourished in recent years, beginning with a strong digital presence and brand image, and translating that into a significant brick-and-mortar expansion. The company has grown to have stores all across the country, particularly in the highly competitive New York retail scene, which Zenni is now trying to break into.
“This is the first time we’ve done something New York-focused,” Pate said. “We wanted to put our personality out there. Warby Parker has done a great job creating a brand with a strong personality and offline presence, and that’s something we’ve been working on. Part of our reinvestment in the company has precluded us from allowing people to experience it offline. That’s a big part of what we will be doing going forward.”
Zenni launched a pop-up shop in New York City, as is almost mandatory for so many brands today, in order to promote the collection. But the pop-up also served as a way to introduce the brand to customers who were not aware of it. According to Pate, Zenni’s personality as a brand is undefined at the moment. The blank-slate status is a challenge in terms of brand loyalty, but it also presents an opportunity for Zenni to make a solid first impression for a more style-oriented consumer who might be introduced to the brand due to its collaboration with Weiland.
“We’ve been in business for 15 years,” Pate said. “We have no true brand perception at the moment. Really, at the end of the day, the public who doesn’t know about us has no conception of us at all. So we have millions of satisfied customers, but we want to go out and touch different people in different places. Whether it’s a Soho fashionista brought to us by Timo or someone in New York just looking for affordable glasses, we want to be able to touch multiple audiences. We aspire to have as wide a reach as possible.”