Founded by Jules Morel in 1880, the Morel eyewear company exudes the independent spirit and creative nature it has maintained through four generations of family management.
It’s difficult for companies to make the transition from the founding generation to the next, and the success rate drops dramatically with each successive generation. So, for a family company to remain intact within the same family’s control into the fourth generation is extremely rare.
That’s the accomplishment achieved by the French eyewear company Morel, founded in the Jura mountains of northeastern France 137 years ago. Three siblings, Jérôme, Amélie and Francis run the company founded by their great grandfather.
“When we get together for family gatherings, we don’t speak business . . . never,” Jérôme Morel explained as one of the secrets of maintaining a successful multi-generational company. “We open the door of the factory, and as soon as we are out, no more business.”
FOUR U.S. BRANDS
But it’s Morel’s eyewear that put it on the map and that keeps its reputation strong globally, particularly in the U.S., where four brands are widely successful, each with its own story and inspiration for its design to appeal to a unique demographic.
Lightec is the company’s technological product, a lightweight frame without screws and a patented flex hinge. Öga is an architectural line geared toward men. Koali, with its designs referencing nature, is a colorfully designed eyewear line for women. Nomad, Morel’s brand to most recently make its U.S. debut when it was launched here last year, features each design concept based on destinations all over the world. Each line is inspired by one particular city.
Following the newly created position of global product director and the addition of a colorist to the design team in January of 2016, the company’s designs continue their evolution.
When asked to describe examples of the company’s new design direction captured in the company’s Vision Expo releases and going forward, Tom Castiglione, CEO of Morel Eyewear in the U.S., said: “Overall, we have captured the elements of the vintage tsunami that has taken over the market in all brands while staying true to the identity of each collection. Rich tortoise combinations in handmade acetate combined with classic and pantos shapes have broadened our portfolio across the entire offering. In addition, the design spirit of Koali has become more sophisticated and elegant. We’ve used laminated metal fronts with contrasting color and finish to create a distinctive yet wearable feature. In some designs, exclusive acetate fronts are combined with metal top bars to provide the consumer with product far from ordinary while remaining subtle in appearance. Of course, each brand is constantly changing and evolving with the needs of the market, but Koali has gone through the greatest metamorphosis.”
Morel maintains the independence that has defined the company since the beginning. “We are very independent,” Jérôme Morel told VCPN during a recent exclusive interview. “We do our own designs and don’t have any licenses.” This translates into the company’s customer base as well. “We’re very strict, focusing only on independent opticians. We don’t focus on chains,” Morel continued. “Our main goal is to reaffirm the best product for the independent, so we are dedicated to this business.”
When he described the company as “trying to be very close to the customer,” Morel referenced the company’s new campaign that uses its long-time mascot and logo, the cat, to define its characteristics. Morel recently launched the campaign to illustrate how a typical cat’s personality portrays the positive aspects of the overall company—family oriented, independent, intuitive and agile.
Of course, as one might expect, being in its fourth generation, the company has not been without its growing pains over the years. One such challenge that occurred during the ‘90s that involved the current generation’s management was the acquisition of the competitor, Cottet. While this company “had been hot in the U.S.” prior to the purchase, according to Morel, afterward, although it remained under the existing Cottet management, “there were no orders at this time,” he said.
“It was a very difficult time for Morel,” he continued. “They had been a competitor, and it was a very risky decision. The points of view were very different between the Morel and Cottet families. I arrived in Cottet with my father [Jacques] in ’91, and it took about three or four years to put it back on track. In 2005, we decided to merge Morel and Cottet rather than running them in two directions, and this was good for business.” In addition, a factory that Cottet had been running in Puerto Rico had to be shut down about seven years after the acquisition because it wasn’t profitable anymore. “When we bought Cottet, those were challenging years, very shaky,” said Morel.
A FIFTH GENERATION?
What about the next Morel generation? “My goal is to do like my father did and pass the business to someone,” said Morel, “but the eight children of the three family members running the business are still too young, so we are okay for five or six years.” He added, “I think it would be good for them to find a job outside the company first.”
What we do know is that under the current generation’s management, this vintage company will continue to turn out trending eyewear. Its likely future could be summed up by Castiglione’s observations about how Morel’s new designs were received at Vision Expo East this year: “We had one of the best shows ever this year, and while it is always an opportunity to visit and capture new accounts, we were most pleased with the reaction to our products from our loyal customers who have known us to be a creative force in the market. Their reaction to our new products was more than we could have hoped for.”
In 2010, while Jérôme’s father, Jacques, was still alive, Morel produced a book honoring the company’s 130th anniversary. Jacques died one year later, but the company (and the book) live on. For more information about the book and Morel, contact: Marketing@Morel-EyewearUSA.com.
Morel 800.526.8838 • Morel-France.com
1. Morel was founded in northeastern France 2. Super-Florida, 1960s 3. Old Morel logo metal die 4. Modern Morel logo 5. Morel offices today 6. Designing on a tablet 7. Morel’s current ad campaigns 8. Early 1980s Jacques Depussay design with it’s sketch 9. Vintage Morel frame, circa 1938 10. Blanking’s winning 1996 sketch launched Öga 11. Morel family ledger