The world of sunglasses may be long in the cool stakes but has up to now been somewhat short on innovation. Now, the winds of technology are shifting those sands.
You may have heard already about Snap (née Snapchat) turning the not-so-humble pair of 80s-style retro shades into a device for recording and posting videos on Snapchat. Now, at the other end of the spectrum, a startup out of Spain called Saldum Ventures has raised $56 million (€50 million) to build out Hawkers, a new, digital-first, vertically integrated sunglasses business that wants to take on the big brands of the industry like Ray-Ban, Oakley and more.
This is the first funding that Hawkers has raised since it first opened for business two years ago. This round was led by Félix Ruiz and Hugo Arévalo, the founders of Tuenti, a social networking app in Spain that was acquired by Telefonica and has since expanded into other mobile services like calls. Others investing include O’Hara, an investment group controlled by Venezuelan businessman Alejandro Betancourt, as well as other private investors that are not being named.
The company is not disclosing its valuation, but it tells me that it is a minority investment that retains control with the startup’s co-founders: Alex Moreno (CEO), Paco Pérez (GM), Pablo Sánchez (CMO) and David Moreno (Creative Director). Pérez said that Hawkers is currently seeing an annual turnover of €70 million ($78 million) and is already profitable and projecting revenues of €150 million in 2017 and €300 million in 2018. As a point of comparison, the U.S. startup Warby Parker, which has raised over $200 million, was last year valued at $1.2 billion and is still unprofitable.
While there are a number of companies like Snap that are approaching sunglasses as yet another piece of wearable, connected hardware, this is not the area where Hawkers is hoping to make its mark (not yet, anyway).
For now, the company actually has a fairly reductive model: it focuses on one style and brings variation in by way of a seemingly endless combination of lens and frame colors, include collaborations with famous personalities and brands to produce specific styles. Collaborators have so far included the LA Lakers, retailer Pull&Bear, Mercedes-Benz, PlayStation, Steve Aoki, Usher, Jorge Lorenzo, Luis Suarez, Lewis Hamilton and Ricky Rubio.
Hawkers then designs the glasses itself and works with a small number of producers — across China, Italy and Spain — to make them. To date about 90% of its sales come directly to the consumer from its site (it’s sold 3.5 million pairs to date in 50 countries). Occasionally, it also partners with retailers that also cater to their younger demographic.
That younger demographic also forms the basis of Hawkers itself. The average age of an employee is 27, and in keeping with that, the company is comfortably millennial in its approach.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we think that is a good thing. Hawkers represents the new generation of companies,” David Moreno, the creative director told me. Like others in that generation, Hawkers takes a lot of cues from its audience of mostly younger customers in terms of what to produce. “We are not the owners of the brand. We just manage the brand. Our customers who continue buying our brand are the owners.”
It’s mantra is that the days of having to choose between design and price, or quality and price, or trendy and price, are over, with all models costing between €25 and €30.
It also spends virtually no money on marketing (maybe because it needed to pool it all its sponsorship of the LA Lakers). “All our communications and branding is in social media, which we see a huge tool to convert clients to fans and fans to clients,” Pérez said. “That’s the right and only place for us to be.”
The company plans to use the funding to continue expanding across Europe — Italy, Germany, Australia, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom — as well as launch physical concept stores in key locations. And there will be some put aside for R&D Pérez, told me.
“We are going to invest in R&D to study new materials, but also new ways to make market ourselves online, and new acquisitions,” he said. “Of course, we would like to be the brand of the future transforming the way we buy sunglasses.”
Down that line, that might also mean extending their business smarts into smart eyewear, and interestingly could open up interesting collaborations down the line both for Hawkers and those making some of the underlying wearable technology. “We love what Snapchat is doing,” Pérez said. “We would love to make something with them.”