In the true sense of the phrase, eyewear company Kimeze was born from a 'lightbulb moment'. What started as a simple observation while watching dystopian tv series Westworld, has turned into a chic eyewear label that addresses the distinct lack of styles and fits for afro-facial features. With Kimeze, sisters Clare and Christina Kimeze set about correcting and addressing that gap in the market. 

Not letting the daunting nature of  launching a new concept - during a Pandemic, no less - stop or slow them, the duo have released a plethora of styles and colourways, echoing the sisters passion in putting choice back into the customers' hands in an accessible and inclusive way. Nasreen Osman spoke to the sisters on Kimeze's early beginnings, the intricacies of finding the right fit and what's next for the ambitious brand. 

What was the 'lightbulb moment' that led you both to start Kimeze? 

Clare: I was just watching TV one day, and I was watching Westworld. And Bernard, one of the characters, kept pushing his glasses up his nose the whole time. As I was watching it, I was doing the same and I thought, "Maybe this is a thing?" I spoke to Christina about it, we started looking into it and then we booked ourselves onto SILMO Paris, one of the biggest optical fairs in the world. We went there and we saw that nobody was doing it. We thought it was weird because there's usually people doing an East Asian fit - a fit for people who have a lower, and typically narrower, bridge. But obviously, there's diversity within the community, a bit like within the black community. We were like, "How come nobody's doing this?!"

Christina: It was always one of those things that people within the industry knew was a problem. Yet, it was sort of this unspoken thing that nobody had bothered doing anything about because there was this mutual understanding that the black community didn't have the buying power, or the same sort of consumer clout like the Asian community. And we were just really shocked by it. You know, it energised us.

It's interesting because as a consumer, it sort of flew under our radar all these years. I rarely ever wear sunglasses because I've struggled to find a certain style that I love that doesn't keep falling down. But rather than think it's because it's not made to fit me, I just thought that style didn't suit me. I think in the black community especially, we're often made to think that something is wrong with us first before realising our own needs are simply not being addressed. 

Christina: Yeah, and that's the thing, right? When Clare rang me up about the idea, it was one of the those penny drop moments. Like you said, I've been into lots of glasses stores and noticed that things weren't fitting me, but I hadn't made the connection. I assumed that was just the standard, that’s just the fit. And actually, the more we looked into this, the more we realised that it's not just eyewear that is designed around the Caucasian average. It's lots of other things, like jeans. It's kind of surprising what we've sort of just accepted [that standard]. The more we looked into it, the more we just couldn't believe that nobody was doing it, it was that thing [where we thought] "No, somebody must be doing it."

Christina: It's really surprising. It's taken us quite a long time to get to this point with product development. So you know, it's been almost three years in the making. In that time, some of the bigger eyewear brands have started to bring out a wider bridge fit. But it doesn't really solve the problem, because often, it's just a scale-up of the frame. So, unless you have a wider face as well, it doesn't really work. So, it took us a long time to get to this point but we wanted to get it right. 

So, w
hy did you feel like now was the right time to launch? Did you hold off because of COVID or did you get to the point in product development that you wanted to achieve?

Clare: We went through three different manufacturers, and we have 3D modelled the glasses to get a range of [an] average fit. We also had to find a manufacturer who was sympathetic enough to the fact that to provide choice, you need to also offer choice to someone like our dad who has a very flat bridge. You need to be able to provide that diversity. So you have to have those styles as well as an acetate fit that is as good as an average fit for people who have a more elevated bridge. And that's an additional cost. So, there was that. Also, I guess the Black Lives Matter movement provoked conversations that really informed how we wanted to launch as well. Would you also say that, Christina?

Christina: Yeah, definitely. It's challenging with COVID but I think [because of] those conversations around BLM within the community, we're able to talk about these things a bit more freely now. It just felt like the right time, I guess.

In the wake of the BLM resurgence, many more people are open to having these conversations internally within companies and people's homes. But
did you still face any kind of resistance from people you were meeting with? Or manufacturers?  What were some of the challenges you encountered?

Clare: We've had some crazy challenges, just in terms of people's perception. Some of those biases that people have – it's so near the surface. We've had a manufacturer say to us, “We’re very expensive. So, I don't know if we're the manufacturer for you.” We've had people make assumptions about a bunch of stuff like that we can’t pay. Like we are no less able to pay than any other startup.

Our current manufacturer has been so supportive. It's a female-led organisation as well, which is really cool. We really have connected with our manufacturers, and they've been fantastically supportive, and they make the glasses for a lot of the really big fashion-forward brands too. So, the quality is there as well.

You've just recently soft-launched the brand and yet there's so much to choose from - I'm curious how you see yourselves going about drops throughout the year? 

Clare: So we've got some more drops planned for the Autumn [of this year]. There’s the oversized style I mentioned, then we've got some other classic wayfarer styles. Some of those aren’t opticals and more lightweight. We're just going to keep doing a drop every few months, basically. We've got quite a lot of product covered already in development. And now, we're starting on the next season.

We've talked about the process and speaking with manufacturers but what has the general reception been like from customers or family and friends?

Clare: I mean, when we say we've only just launched, we actually went live from the kitchen table, like, last night!

Christina:  Yeah, it's really, really early days. But as part of our process, we did a lot of focus groups and product testing and their feedback has been great. I think it really is that light bulb moment that everybody seems to have. They’re like, “Oh, okay how did I miss that?”  

Clare: Beyond the testing that we've done, our real test was the shoot. The energy there was fantastic. There was a lot of the people that we hadn't fully briefed on exactly what we were about and they were amazed  by it, and would try on the glasses. They were looking and fitting amazingly well. There was a real energy there. We hope that will get carried through as more people find out about what we're doing.

I think that energy will carry through. For people to know that Kimeze exists and that their features are going to be catered to and celebrated is exciting and empowering, in a way.

Christina: T
hat's the thing, it's continuing that conversation. If you're always an afterthought, you're not going to keep seeing that brand and the sort of styles that you want. 

Clare: Exactly, that's a really good point. With bigger brands that are now doing a wider bridge fit or whatever, it's only on certain styles – it's only on the ones that they think are their bestsellers. The vast majority are not offering wider fits. It’s somebody else deciding what it is that the community needs. Somebody from outside of the community who's basically just doing it from a commercial point of view.

Check out more from, and shop, Kimeze here.

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