ONE-TO-ONE: WESTGROUPE’S BEVERLY SULITEANU

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Candid conversations between VCPN’s editors and leading optical executives about their product strategies.

As Vice President of Product Development at WestGroupe, Beverly Suliteanu oversees the company’s eyewear division. Prior to joining the family business, Beverly worked as an account manager for Neilson Marketing Research and then as a product manager for the pharmaceutical company, Rhone-Poulenc-Rorer. In 1994, she joined WestGroupe and learned the business from the ground up, first as a sales representative, then as a buyer, and ultimately heading up the design and product development team. Here Beverly talks about what’s involved in designing collections that are fun and colorful yet wearable.

BETH SCHLAU: How did you begin designing eyewear?

BEVERLY SULITEANU: As WestGroupe is a 53-year-old family business, I guess you can say I grew up with eyewear. For the first 10 years of my career, I was in sales with a full territory, servicing about 200 accounts. I would also go with my father and brother on buying trips to Europe and Asia. At that time we had our own house brands but we weren’t designing them. We would go to the factories and either choose from their existing samples or modify them to what we felt best suited our collection. I learned a lot about material options, the key elements for proper fit, and evaluating overall design on these buying trips.

BETH: Was working in sales beneficial to becoming a designer?

BEV: My time on the road was the most important experience I have had. I learned a tremendous amount from eyecare professionals (ECPs) regarding fit, construction, and common mistakes made in frame design. They gave me feedback about their needs, from both a fashion and function standpoint, and what we as a company could do to make our frames better. It was invaluable in terms of learning the industry as well as seeing and capitalizing on market opportunities.

BETH: Why did WestGroupe start designing its own house brands?

BEV: We were primarily a Canadian distributor, mainly for European or U.S. companies. We were always at the mercy of someone else’s design and vision of a collection. We became more focused in developing our own products and launched KLiiK:Denmark in 2004.

BETH: What was the concept behind KLiiK?

BEV: Although the trend was toward bigger frames at that time, there was still a sizeable segment of the market that needed smaller eyesizes to fit a more petite face. The DNA of the brand evolved from what we felt was a big miss in the market: trendy, funky frames that were geared to the more petite consumer in the upper mid-market price point. We created a unisex eyewear collection with clean, modern design and a focus on strong multi-tone colorations.

BETH: What was the next step in adding to your collections?

BEV: Based on the success of KLiiK, some of our customers said they wanted that type of look but in larger sizes that could accommodate progressive lenses. Rather than adding larger eyesizes to KLiiK, we crafted FYSH in 2006 to capture that market. It’s very important to us that each of our collections is different and complements rather than competes with each other. ECPs also wanted a dedicated men’s collection so we launched Evatik in 2010.

BETH: Is designing for men more challenging than designing for women?

BEV: Because the design and color have to be more subtle in men’s eyewear, the task is coming up with a variety of styles without them all looking the same. We’re now playing a lot with color and pattern in Evatik. We are becoming more adventurous with bold colors and have begun using different finishes when it comes to acetate. The feedback we’ve gotten has been very positive.

BETH: Fashion is clearly key to your design sensibility. Do you go elsewhere for ideas?

BEV: Fashion is definitely my primary source. I look a lot at forecasting, and I get a lot of ideas from interior design. Inspiration comes from color, patterns, and textures that I see in runway collections or just looking at the pattern of a carpet in a hotel I’m staying in and seeing something on the street-just life in general. It’s always about finding new interesting color combinations, things that you don’t expect to see together that suddenly you do and say, ‘Oh, I never thought of it that way.’

BETH: Do you design differently for the U.S. market?

BEV: Our home base is Canada which is somewhere between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to styling-a little bit more European than American. As we started to sell more and become more successful in the U.S., we looked at making our designs more American and quickly realized that our success was because we were not. Our products tend to be sold by retailers who embrace the concept of fun, colorful eyewear. Our customers carry our brands because they are different than most of the others they have in their shop. My goal is to design frames that are different, fun, and interesting but still extremely sellable.

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