All answers from Ace & Tate CEO & Founder Mark de Lange.
When did you first decide to found your own business?
I’ve wanted to start my own business for as long as I can remember. I come from an entrepreneurial family so it was a logical step. My family was in the shoe business, so I guess that might have influenced my decision to start a fashion-related business with a physical product.
What was the inspiration behind it?
The idea behind and the inspiration for Ace & Tate came from a trip to New York where I bought a pricey pair of frames, and had to pay another couple of hundred euros extra to get lenses for my prescription when I came back in Amsterdam. The process itself sucked big time as well. It triggered the light bulb in my head: why is buying glasses about as fun as going to the dentist, even though it’s actually a cool accessory?
I started to research the market and I found out that the industry seemed to thrive on keeping the customer in the dark, as it was completely unclear what I was paying for and why I was paying so much. A handful of huge companies essentially control the industry, so I came to the conclusion that the consumer could benefit from a company that would provide fair prices, a high quality product, and great service. That company became Ace & Tate.
Mark, you have just opened your seventeenth flagship store , now in Stockholm. How are things going for Ace & Tate today?
Yes, we just opened our first flagship store in Sweden on Mäster Samuelsgatan. After having a successful pop-up store in Stockholm we were excited to open our first flagship store in Sweden. Ace & Tate is continuously growing and expanding in Europe. We have 6 more store openings coming up this year. We currently have 19 stores located across the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Denmark and we ship to 13 countries. We’re not thinking of slowing down anytime soon. In October we will open our second store in Stockholm, this time in Sodermalm (Skanegatan 92).
Can you name some of your favourite places in Stockholm?
Well, I am definitely not a local yet but my favourite places for shopping so far are Nitty Gritty, Papercut bookstore and just to drool over their awesome selection over vintage guitars: Hellstone Music. The best frames in Stockholm can obviously be found at the Ace & Tate store ;). Food & drink-wise I like Snickarbacken 7 for coffee or lunch, Falafelbaren has some of the best falafel I’ve ever had, Racamaca is great for drinks and bites and my guilty pleasure would be meatballs at Riche.
Has your company philosophy changed a lot with all this growth?
With growth comes natural change in terms of the company’s scale, however our philosophy has remained the same, we want to change the way people buy glasses by offering them a lighthearted and fun experience. We continue to offer a high quality product for a fair price and central to making what the brand is today is best-in-class service, quality and transparency. Doing cool and inspiring projects too has always been and will continue to be an important part of Ace & Tate.
People often comment on how you have been able to cut down the costs. What is your method to challenge the way glasses are traditionally produced and priced?
Traditionally there are a lot of links in the chain between you, the consumer, and the manufacturer of the frames. We do everything in house, however. Our design team designs our frames at our studio in Amsterdam and we then work directly with our suppliers to get you a great quality product at a fair price. We sell our product directly to you through our own channels - online and in our own stores. By cutting out the unnecessary links in the chain between you and us we are able to offer our customers high quality products at a fair price.
You’re selling online, that makes Ace & Tate a digital company?
Ace & Tate is an omnichannel company, which means that we communicate, interact and transact with our customers through digital and physical channels. Our physical channels, our stores, use the same digital platform as our online sales channel, our website, however. This enables us to provide our customer with a seamless experience, regardless of the channel that you use to interact with us - i.e. chat, email, phone, our website or one of our stores.
Are your choices of design instinctive, or do you want to become part of the trend cycle?
We strive to design what we call “contemporary classics” - modern interpretations of classic shapes that will stand the test of time. When it comes to designing sunglasses you can be a bit more expressive and outspoken in comparison to opticals as the fit is really important so there are some design barriers. Our collaborations allow us to push boundaries even more and be playful, it gives us the opportunity to use new materials and really offer something outstanding to our audience.
What do you think is attractive about hiding behind sunglasses?
For me there are multiple reasons to wear sunglasses. There are medical reasons such as shielding your eyes from harmful UV rays. Other than that it can be comforting to simply block out the outside world by wearing a nice pair of “fuck you”-frames. It can be a comfortable piece of armour.
How do you feel when you see people wearing your eyewear?
It feels absolutely awesome! In Amsterdam it has become somewhat normal to see people out on the street wearing Ace & Tate or seeing people carrying out tote bags - which is still a trip. But encountering our frames in the “wild” in a different city like Berlin or Stockholm is a TRIP! I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It varies wildly… I guess there’s no such thing as a typical day, which I love. I travel quite a lot now that we’re opening stores in different cities. When I am at the office I am in a lot of meetings which is not easy for me - I have little patience to sit still and listen. My involvement ranges from commenting on new store designs to looking at new frame ideas to working with our management team to make sure we’re on track to meet our goals. When I’m at the office but not in meetings you can usually find me on our very comfortable couch listening to music and banging out emails.
Can you talk about your initiative, the Ace & Tate Creative Fund and its headline « Anyone can apply »?
We established the Ace & Tate Creative Fund to offer funding for emerging creatives working anywhere and in any medium. The fund aims to help bring their ideas to life and to the forefront of the creative industry. It is a one-off grant that is continued with support and guidance by using different platforms to promote the artist. Anyone can apply and the applicants are reviewed by myself and a panel of our creative friends including Will Hudson (It's Nice That), Lernert & Sander (artists & filmmaker duo) and Mario Lombardo (artist and founder of BUREAU Mario Lombardo). You can apply here.
What’s next for your company?
Since Ace & Tate is continuously growing and expanding we have quite some exciting things coming up. Earlier this month we launched our AW17 main collection ‘Field Notes’. The collection took us on a return to nature with a seasonal colour palette and shape wise the frames are more graphical and hexagon-shaped this season. Besides the the new collection we also have a titanium collection launching this month and exciting collaborations coming up next year, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
Next to new product launches, we are also expanding on and offline in new cities across Europe. Our second permanent store in Stockholm has now opened on Skanegatan 92 in Sodermalm.
And finally, this autumn we will be revealing our second Ace & Tate Creative Fund project by photographer Hayley Louisa Brown. More details to follow…