FASHION IS GOING SO FAST. YOU HAVE TO PICK UP THE TRENDS EVERY DAY, AND YOU HAVE TO BE VERY CLOSE TO YOUR MARKET.
Werner Paletschek, who has served as CEO of OWP (Optische Werke Passau) for 18 years, has been “in love with eyewear” since he joined the company in 1992 when he started working in the marketing and product development team. It took Paletschek only seven years to move into the top executive position. He has a degree in business administration from the University of Regensburg, Germany, and launched the OWP brands—OWP, Mexx and Metropolitan—into the U.S. market approximately 10 years ago. VCPN spoke to Paletschek at Vision Expo East about how newer generations are changing the face of optical design and OWP’s unique place in the market.
MICHELE SILVER: What is the history of the company?
WERNER PALETSCHEK: The company was founded 70 years ago by Mr. Hans Strätz and Mr. Franz Fremuth in Passau, Germany. They were producing frames and lenses before World War II, and after the war, they took some of the machinery and started over. In the ‘80s, there was a management buyout, and they turned around the whole positioning of the brand as high value and high quality. Today, [the company is]more of a design and fashion clinic.
SILVER: What design changes have you seen in the industry?
PALETSCHEK: Over the last 20 years we have seen a lot of transitions in the market, and there is [more]variety. You will find very thin, very bold, dark colors, completely fancy colors and fancy shapes. I think this is the best time for frame design. Of course, there are mega trends like frames getting a little thinner, but in general, everything is allowed and that’s so fun. The young designers don’t care [about following trends]. They [design frames]inspired from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘50s. If they like it, they just do it. You can see that in eyewear a lot, and that makes it easy and difficult as well.
SILVER: What is the difficult part?
PALETSCHEK: Fashion is going so fast. You have to pick up the trends every day, and you have to be very close to your market, creating something new they haven’t seen. You need a lot of guts. But we are in an industry where if we go too far, it could be risky because you get the returns or the customer is not buying it.
For a company like ours, [since]we operate worldwide, [an additional challenge]is to cover the majority of all the important markets with more or less the same collection. [OWP likes to position itself] somewhere in between not too boring but not too far ahead. I think everyone is very cosmopolitan these days. There are no barriers anymore, which I like a lot. And it’s the young people who will drive it and develop it.
SILVER: How is the environment at OWP reflecting these changes?
PALETSCHEK: Our company in terms of [the age of our]employees has changed a lot. We used to have an average of 55 [years old]now we have an average of 35. They see things differently—they want to get things done. They’re brave. That’s changed our world a lot.
SILVER: Can you explain the distinctions of your three collections and your branding philosophy?
PALETSCHEK: OWP has always been our core collection, and its mainly 80% ladies who are 40 and up who are looking for design and not a branded product. We always try to push it to a certain edge, using exclusive materials and making it individual—[OWP frames] have a decorative but subtle element, whether it’s the shape or the temple design.
Mexx is our international fashion brand. It’s a very young, metropolitan, easy-to-wear, mid-price collection, always with a little twist of design that’s colorful and fun. The target group is actually defined as 25 to 35, but I would say it has something for everyone. We have Mexx sunglasses as well.
Metropolitan was started a couple of years ago to make our portfolio and positioning complete. This is very clean looking, very urban, very subtle, and not a lot of details. It’s a ‘hipster light’ product, not for those which want to show off, but those who enjoy quality, simple design.
SILVER: How do your personal eyewear preferences play into the mix of creating the collections?
PALETSCHEK: I’m an uncomplicated customer. It must be simple, have a good shape, good quality material, and have a good feel to it. But we would die if we only do the stuff I like!