Having a good sense of market trends, an in-depth knowledge of how to
make a frame fit comfortably and a few glasses of wine…according to Hans Stepper, founder of Stepper Eyewear, are the key ingredients to coming up with winning spectacles.
Hans Stepper was studying to be a master optician in Germany when he began to design eyewear. He was instantly recognised as a talent and picked up by the then large Finnish eyewear manufacturer Metzler to design and handcraft bespoke eyewear, decorated with silver and gold. Actors, actresses, designers and even Urho Kekkonen, President of Finland from 1956 – 1981 were among his clientele.
But it was Mr. Stepper’s desire to push the boundary of eyewear design that inspired him to set up his own company. He did so with a friend who had experience in plastics manufacturing because, as he told mivision at a recent event in Melbourne, Mr. Stepper’s aim was to manufacture plastic frames by injection moulding rather than using the traditional way of cutting the frames from an acetate sheet.
His desire was driven by a focus on designing eyewear for comfort and fit rather than pure aesthetics, and so, he determined, he needed to work from the nose bridge out.
We’ve divided the optical world into two parts – the ‘long noses’ and the ‘short noses
“The principal of designing a frame from the nose bridge out is sensible because noses aren’t all the same – the fit on the nose is much more important than the width of the frame,” said Mr. Stepper.
Mr. Stepper’s first foray into business in Germany didn’t survive, so fortunately he was rescued by “English friends” who created a joint venture with a group from China. The entire manufacturing operation was moved to China, and Mr. Stepper went along for the ride in his capacity as eyewear designer.
Today he is once again an integral part of the management group. “When the brand name was taken over, I was only working there, but since then I’ve worked my way back up the ladder and into management. Now I’m very much involved in the ownership of the brand,” he said.
Mr. Stepper is involved in every aspect of the company. He has three designers working for him who collaborate with the sales team but ultimately he decides on the designs that go out to market.
A Multi Brand Strategy
With a family of seven sub-brands and a newly launched Asian fit collection, Mr. Stepper has plenty to wrap his head around.
Not that this was always the case – when Stepper started out it focused on designing and manufacturing eyewear for the ‘more mature’ market who were the people Mr. Stepper felt were being ignored by other eyewear designers.
“We tried to make saleable frames as opposed to designer – for the consumer segment in the market that had been neglected – those more mature people.”
“That makes sense,” he said, because “people who need frames the most are not young people – they’re people over 40 who are wearing frames every day… and that’s where fit and comfort come into the picture. We’re a very modest brand – not outspoken but highly targeted to people others ignored… people who want to look smart but don’t want to stand out.”
He said expansion into different markets triggered a multi-brand strategy that has seen Stepper Eyewear build a much greater presence in optical stores around the world.
“We began to sell into countries other than the United Kingdom and Germany – into South Africa, Australia and Brazil, for instance. But you can’t sell the same frame into every country so we began to design for different markets and then different market segments. Now optical stores have more choice and can build a stronger Stepper presence.
“Other companies are doing the same thing (introducing different product lines) but they’re doing this by purchasing other brand licences – which costs a lot of money. I didn’t see the need to do this. And now, because we don’t pay licence fees, we can keep our costs under control – which means we can always be regarded as high value for money – with the best materials, and the best workmanship.”
Titanium and TX5 are Mr. Stepper’s materials of choice. “TX5 plastic is the lightest material you can get – yet it’s very tough, still flexible, and almost indestructible,” he said. “In terms of metal there is nothing that exceeds the quality of titanium – it’s half the weight of normal metal materials, anti-allergic and completely corrosion free – so nothing happens, even in severe sea climates like Australia,” he said.
Long Nose, Short Nose
When Stepper introduced its Asian fit collection in 2013, the strength of Mr. Stepper’s strategy to design from the nose bridge out was absolutely evident.
“We’ve divided the optical world into two parts – the ‘long noses’ and the ‘short noses’.
The launch of Stepper Australia
In conjunction with Optique Line, Hans Stepper and his daughter Saskia traveled to Australia in March to help launch Stepper Australia.
The independent eyewear market will now have access to the most comprehensive range of Stepper eyewear.