CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN VCPN’S BETH SCHLAU AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
David Duralde, Chief Creative Officer at Kenmark Group, has over 20 years of experience in the optical industry, ranging from designing P-O-P materials to directing product design to overseeing strategic brand positioning. He joined Kenmark in 2001, had a two-year hiatus at Safilo USA, and returned to Kenmark in 2005. His current responsibilities include product design, sales, licensed brand relations, new business development, marketing, and strategic positioning of the Kenmark brand. Here, David discusses Kenmark’s approach to creating eyewear.
BETH SCHLAU: How do you decide what design approach you take with each brand?
DAVID DURALDE: We work collaboratively with each design house. Each of our designers has a distinct talent and point of view, and we identify the best match between each designer and brand. We hope that the match brings the best out of both companies. Then we focus on creating product for eyecare professionals (ECPs) who want the right frames with the right fit for their patients. Those professionals share with us their expertise on shape and technology, including lenses and size based on Rx. We then blend this mix of ingredients and partner with ECPs to provide relevant product that is compelling to their patients—on-trend, exciting, and featuring the richness of the brand heritage. We want the consumer to be enthusiastic about the product and satisfied with their visit with the ECP.
BS: Your licensed brands are all U.S.-based. What is the reason for that?
DD: This is our story and our advantage. We want direct access to each design house since we collaborate each step of the way. We want a house that is very open to working closely with us so they can step into our process and infuse their spirit into fashion. We look for a symbiotic relationship, and one that offers fun and excitement. We have made a strategic decision to carry brands that offer ECPs and consumers something different.
BS: How hands-on are the licensors?
DD: Every license wants their voice heard and their identity understood. Our aptitude is design, deep industry knowledge, and long-term relationships with ECPs. When you marry those strengths together, magic can happen. At a basic level, we sit with our licensors, listen, and learn about what they like about eyewear and how they want it to look. We maintain both the fashion and the technical aspect this way. We have trust in a relationship to understand their vision and goals for the brand. They give us a color palette for the season, we look at jewelry and embellishments, their format, and convert them to eyewear. It’s a different scale and volume so it’s not an exact reproduction—if it’s too literal, it becomes a cliché. We take cues from clothing and create original product.
BS: You have a well-balanced portfolio covering various consumer demographics. Any plans to expand?
DD: Always. Kenmark has been growing and evolving for almost 40 years and we are going to continue to be where consumers and ECPs are headed. We are developing new capabilities as a company, we have a lot of muscle, the timing is good, and we are looking to add to our portfolio. And we are realigning our sales territories so we have the potential to serve more ECPs. People want more unique designs so we have to add brands. They look to us to be an alternative to the bigger global brands. We can complement them because we’ve been successful in creating product that is different and we make sure ECPs have the right collections for their office.
BS: Do you talk with ECPs to discern what design trends they are looking to have on their frame boards?
DD: It’s all about accessibility. The more direct connection and relationship you have with people you are serving the better. We have constant dialogue with our customers to create connection. We listen to what they need and what their patients are looking for and we are continually refining the product to make it better and make improvements on fit. This is all part of our approach: having an ongoing conversation with in-house designers, our fashion designers, and our customers so we are continually creating new ideas and generating interest.
BS: How do you use materials to ensure a high level of creativity?
DD: We design in-house but we source materials worldwide which gives us the freedom to buy the best and freshest components and materials. This is what gives a unique sensibility to our products. Our story is about the layers of time and development that we invest in one frame and the attention and relationship to create unique product and unique ideas. This is how we justify our price point. As eyewear designers, we always try to achieve a central goal—create beautiful products that help people feel and look even better.