As is so often the case in life, Mark Craig fell into the sunglasses and eyewear business almost by accident. After completing his training as an industrial designer, Craig took a job with a large international eyewear company, designing collections for their American fashion and sports brands. The rest, as they say, is history. “I wasn’t planning to stay longer than a year, but then I ended up falling in love with the product segment,” recalls Craig. “Eventually though, I became disillusioned with the corporate scene and left to start my own studio in Brooklyn and have been designing for many different brands in many different product categories ever since. This has allowed me to have so much more creative independence and really sharpened my sensibilities for telling the story of a brand through its products.”
It is this passion for innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity that carries through into Activist Eyewear’s sunglasses and brand identity. Craig describes his core design inspiration as coming from a kind of “mash-up culture”, a term which originated in the underground music scene. Craig explains that for him this means bringing together disparate design elements to create a harmonious end-result. “With Activist Eyewear we wanted to combine new and old styles, and also look at ways to create products which featured both performance and style. Central to our design philosophy was also identifying our ideal customer and defining him as a sort of ‘Dapper Outdoorsman’. Once we achieved this, it was then a lot easier to find a focus for the brand and look at ways that we could outfit this imaginary guy to a T.”
When it comes to the utilization of social media, Craig has also employed a number of very interesting ideas, some of which are still in the pipeline and are being kept under-wraps. What he was able to tell me was fascinating nonetheless. Despite sounding somewhat counter-intuitive, for Activist Eyewear, having less fans or followers on Facebook and twitter might actually be better than having more. “One mistake that people often make is to get obsessed with what I call ‘vanity metrics’, or numbers that don’t really serve a purpose other than to inflate your ego”, says Craig. “For example, having 10,000 fans doesn’t really mean anything if they aren’t engaged with your brand. You’re better served having 1,000 super fans that tell their friends about your product, comment about your postings, provide feedback to you on what they like, what needs improved, etc. Having 10,000 people visit your page once and click a ‘like’ button shouldn’t be the goal of the campaign because it doesn’t really do much to advance your brand.”
Craig has also found that social media is at its most valuable when things are allowed to develop organically and a natural buzz is created. The logic follows that since the online community is always on the lookout for new products which are fresh and meaningful; the best strategy is to try to tap into this natural tendency. “Get one guy excited by what you’re doing”, says Craig, “he tweets about it to his friends, and before long your whisperings are being broadcast through a megaphone”.
Interestingly, Craig credits Linkedin as one of the most effective social networking tools in Activist Eyewear’s arsenal. Here again it is not so much about numbers but relationships – quality rather than quantity. Craig elaborates: “One group of people that we’ve looked to connect with on LinkedIn are Sales Reps. We want to meet individuals who might be interested in carrying our product, or might know someone who is interested in carrying our product. We want to make a great first impression, and a good way to do that is to avoid a spammy-sounding first message and genuinely show an interest in that person. The biggest suggestion I would make is to not look at each connection as another number that pads your stats. Look at them for what they really are – a real person who you’re interested in getting to know and perhaps someday that relationship leads to a working relationship.”
Clearly social media is only really effective if you have products worth talking about – an area Activist Eyewear has been able to excel in. For Craig, this consumer buzz has translated into several new opportunities involving exciting collaborations with various movies and likeminded brands. The company’s frames are set to be featured in a number of as yet unreleased motion pictures including Piranha 3D 2 and a new untitled film starring multiple Golden Globe-nominee, Blair Underwood. In terms of future collaborations, Activist Eyewear has already formed a partnership with designer Chike Atu’s Alfred Julius label. Coinciding with the release of the latter’s new bowtie line in Spring 2012, Craig has developed his own microfiber handkerchiefs, which have been specially designed to match the bowties. The two companies are currently planning a launch party for December to celebrate the start of their joint venture together.
As far as the future is concerned, the sky seems to be the limit for Activist Eyewear. First they plan to expand into the general prescription-based eyewear market – a sector which represents 80% of the eyewear worn today as opposed to the 20% made up of non-prescription sunglasses which Craig currently specializes in. Internationally, Activist Eyewear’s products are also gaining increasing traction. Craig says that in Japan and South Korea, consumers are particularly receptive to his design ethos which stresses both individuality and attention to detail. Alongside this expansion, social media is also likely to feature heavily in Craig’s plans as he continues to think of new ways to excite consumers and foster engagement. “By giving people more opportunities to not only test out our frames, but to then tell their friends about them has the potential to be very powerful for us…ultimately we want to create a situation where our customers can be online ambassadors for Activist Eyewear”. Watch this space!