A talk with Jason Kirk

Every now and then, TEF will have a sit down with one of the remarkable designers within the optical arena. Who are the people behind the brand, what drives them and what sets them apart from other brands?

Today we met with Jason Kirk, co-founder of Kirk & Kirk together with his lovely wife Karen Kirk. Here are some insights from both of them and what we can expect from their unique independent brand in the near future.

In short, how would you describe the philosophy behind Kirk & Kirk?

Our goal is to create eyewear that makes people feel great.We aim to be unique in our collections but, at the same time, completely wearable. This helps the independent optician differentiate themselves from their competitors.

I guess everybody wants to feel great and be unique, but can you describe the kind of people who wear your frames?

The people who wear our frames are independent, creative and not at all label driven. They seek out quality and style. They tend to stand out from the crowd through their personality.

I think it is awesome that you were able to create a brand that fills in the gaps in the market. How did this come to live? Can you give us a short background of the brand?

Kirk & Kirk started in 2013 but our history goes back nearly a hundred years when my Grandfather and his brother, Sidney and Percy Kirk, started Kirk Brothers in London and brought innovation and creativity to the optical industry. Their children were all opticians and I grew up in the family practice with my parents. I was not into optics at all until I discovered, quite by chance, a beautiful box of frames that my Grandfather had designed and the rest is history.

So it’s a real family business and I hear you run this company with your wife, who would you say has the biggest input in your design?

Karen is the Creative Director and drives our design. I have some input but mostly concentrate on other areas of business development.

But despite the fact that it’s a family business, it wasn’t your cup of tea from the start. What attracted you to eyewear and how did your creative process evolve?

Having discovered my Grandfather’s frames, Karen and I looked around London to check out the competition. We did not see any exciting eyewear (fortunately, we were in London!) so we spotted an opportunity.We started by copying old frames but soon evolved to making new frames using original 1960s materials and temples and, when supply became short, we decided to create everything from scratch. Sidney and Percy insisted that everything that they did brought something new to the market and we follow that credo.Now we create our own original materials, we work in acrylic not acetate, we create jewelry for the Vivarium collection and we design all of our own frames.

That sounds like you really created your own style, but everyone gets his inspiration from somewhere. Which designer or label has made the biggest impact on you?

In eyewear, ALAIN MIKLI when the brand was independent, was a shining beacon for all creative optical brands. There are so many good labels out there, each having their own qualities.Naturally, we look at what other eyewear folks are doing but it does not really influence us.

So you found your niche, I really believe that is where opportunities are for us independent eyewear designers. What was the biggest challenge while establishing your own company?

Creating our own identity and unique style without going too far ‘out there’ and scaring people.

Sounds to me like you really have a brand that offers something unique to the market, but what kind of support do you offer to opticians to help sell the product?

We work really closely with our clients. Naturally, we offer point of sale material and the office POP but we offer great social media and communications support. We offer an in-house design service to help our clients communicate, whether it is by windows or adverts and we also offer a consultancy service to help people navigate their independent businesses through these choppy waters. We genuinely care about optics, perhaps naively, so we really try to help our clients. Nowadays there are so many challenges from the look of your store to product selection to communication on and offline – it is a fast-moving, fast-changing world.

That is quite some backup for an independent brand! Are there other characteristics that make Kirk & Kirk different from other eyewear labels?

Do you want a short answer? We are a two-year-old business with twenty-five years experience……Our products are unique – we use acrylic to achieve super lightweight frames, even though they are chunky looking and the material also allows to create a very special colour palette.We really care what happens in our industry……we are not just in it for the money but I guess that is obvious.

With you and Karen always being on top of the market, which current eyewear trends would you like to see more of?

Tough question………there is a great move towards bold colour after so many years of retro tortoise shell and black. Big, bold glasses that are worn to be seen…..more, more, more.

What can we expect to see from Kirk & Kirk in the future?

We have some new releases at Mido and our two current collections are going from strength to strength. There is plenty more in the pipeline and you can expect our collections to continue to be a celebration of eyewear.As the company progresses, we hope to contribute more to the industry than simply the frames that we create…….

About Kirk & Kirk

Jason and Karen Kirk have over twenty years in optical design, manufacture, retail, and distribution both nationally and internationally. Jason has a background in sales and marketing, he has worked in the leadership and motivation of a team which started off as a small family business but swiftly became an international network of reps, agents, and distributors. Karen worked as a graphic designer for many businesses in-house and freelance before entering the world of optical design. Karen has over twenty years design experience. Eyewear is not only Jason and Karen’s experience and knowledge, for Jason it has been his heritage and his upbringing. Jason is the third generation in optics in the Kirk family.

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