Jérôme Morel, President of Morel, graduated as an optician from Lycée Victor Berard in Morez, the heart of the French eyewear industry in 1986. After studying product design, Jérôme came to the U.S. to learn the workings of this market and launched Morel USA. In 1992, Jérôme took over the management of the family business along with his two siblings, Francis and Amélie. Jérôme is responsible Morel’s product creation and development. Here, he discusses Morel’s design philosophy and business strategies in the U.S.
BETH SCHLAU: Creativity and innovation is the basis of Morel. How is that personified in the creation of the collections?
JÉRÔME MOREL: We developed each of the three brands that we distribute in the U.S. market from “scratch.” Each brand has its own DNA and creative impulse which results in a look that it completely unique to each brand. Öga is based on a “form follows function” design philosophy. This masculine line is inspired by contemporary architecture and has a Scandinavian influence. Koali is a feminine collection inspired by the wonders of nature. Koali’s tagline, “le monde vivant,” translates to “the living world.” Each concept is inspired by an animal or plant to create unique and colorful products. Lightec is a technical brand (“Lightec” meaning lightweight and technological). This brand is completely screwless with an exclusive springless flex hinge. Lightec is dedicated to immediate comfort.
BETH: Technology has also long been an important part of Morel. How does your design team incorporate technology into the fashion aspect of the eyewear?
JÉRÔME: We adapt the design process according to the DNA of each brand. With Öga, for example, the designer begins with an idea of a flex hinge, which is used as the foundation. In our new Tråd concept, the flex hinge consists of a stainless steel wire folded into a clip which connects the front with the temple. In this case, the Öga designer worked closely with the R&D team to develop the technology and to adapt the design of the frame step by step.
BETH: All of your brands are independent of licenses. How was the decision made to carry only house brands?
JÉRÔME: We have been an independent company since Morel was established in 1880. We believe that developing our house brands is a way to preserve this autonomy. We do not want to rely on a hypothetical license renewal. We also feel that there is room in the market for product with significant added value in terms of design and quality. Morel can provide that to the market.
BETH: Do you anticipate carrying any licensed brands in the future?
JÉRÔME: We have made the decision not to sign licenses. Today, Morel’s know-how and creativity is recognized by our ECP partners all over the world. Our customers are looking for different and innovative products with good sell-through, which keeps us focused on producing quality eyewear.
BETH: Each of your brands has its own niche-are there any plans to expand the number of brands and therefore create another niche?
JÉRÔME: Currently, no. We do our best to get the most out of each collection by expanding and adapting our products according to the market. This is why, for instance, we decided to create a segment of smaller sizes in our Lightec line. For Öga we released Öga+ that features wood temples. In addition, we have increased our women’s offerings by expanding on both the Koali and Lightec collections.
BETH: How closely do you work with your optical accounts and in what way?
JÉRÔME: Our U.S. team has developed a rewards program to foster the collaborative spirit between Morel and our customers. We understand how difficult it is for our customers to differentiate themselves in today’s market. We have created merchandising programs to help the retailer call out our brands as well as individual marketing campaigns to assist our customers. The U.S. team is focused on helping our retail partners build their business in ways other than just providing great product.
BETH: Sun seems to becoming a more important part of your collections. What was the reason behind this decision?
JÉRÔME: We feel that sunwear significantly contributes to the value of a brand by boosting its awareness and reputation with the end consumer.
BETH: Are there any plans to change the strategy of your business in the U.S.?
JÉRÔME: It has always been to work with independent retailers. This will continue through our exclusive sales team. This year, we added a Sales Director for the U.S. market in order to develop our business even more. Strategically, we will reinforce the critical role our optical brands play in our customers’ dispensaries. New merchandising programs and materials have been developed along with a revived ad campaign to highlight the message of our brands. Our core belief system remains-we are dedicated to our objective to help independent retailers differentiate themselves in this ever-changing competitive market.