By Jamie Siebrase | Mar 27, 2018
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Pupil co-founder Logan Beck was selling optometry equipment when his business partner and co-founder, Jason Salinas, approached him with the idea of manufacturing eyewear instead.
Plenty of companies make glasses, but less than a dozen do it in the United States. As a result, Beck and Salinas had to reinvent the wheel.
The first challenge the entrepreneurs faced was finding a space to manufacture their product. With its revamped industrial buildings and locally-minded residents, the RiNo Art District was an ideal location for Pupil. "It's such a booming neighborhood, that anything up for sale or lease was off the market real quick," Beck says.
When 3070 Larimer St. became available, Beck and Salinas nabbed the 2,700-square-foot building. Below Pupil's hip 900-square-foot ground-level showroom, the company has ample space for its eyeglass factory.
All of Pupil's products are handmade. "For such a small thing, there are a ton of processes to go through," says Beck.
Domestic eyeglass manufacturers typically use wooden frames, but cotton cellulose is the gold standard for Pupil. A blend of cotton fiber and acetone, the material is organic, natural, pliable, and durable, making it an excellent choice for eyewear. "Take really, really fine cotton, roll it with acetone, and add organic compounds," Beck says. That's the basis for Pupil's eye-catching frames (pun intended).
Over 50 colors of cotton cellulose arrive "in a plank," Beck says, and employees align the raw cellulose on custom templates before cutting and shaping the material by hand to customer specifications.
Customization starts in Pupil's showroom, where customers are given templates to try out. "If a template feels too small or too big, we adjust the size," Beck explains.
From there, customers pick a color and a finish, the latter of which can range from gloss or semi-gloss to rough western, Beck says, noting that the finishing process involves tumbling shaped cotton cellulose in oak wine barrels for over 72 hours.
Traditional eyewear manufacturers often rely on machinery for production; at Pupil, even the sanding is done by hand. Hardware is added after a final inspection, and heat is used to custom mold eyewear.
"People are surprised to learn that we can custom make a pair of glasses to their face," Beck notices.
High-quality, well-fitting eyeglasses might cost a little more, but they're worth the investment. "When frames don't fit, it can impact how the lenses work," Beck says, "You're also going to have a comfortable pair of glasses. If you're wearing something every day, it should be comfortable, right?"
Pupil contracts with two optometrists, to provide in-house optometry services for customers who need prescription lenses, which are made off-site and shipped to Pupil's flagship facility.
The word is getting out. "Our output increases on a weekly basis," Beck says. While Pupil sells products nationwide, the majority of its clients are right here in Denver.
Challenges: Because eyeglasses aren't typically made in the U.S., one of Pupil's biggest challenges has been "acquiring intellectual capital," as Beck puts it.
Obtaining equipment has also been an issue. "It was hard to find the saws we needed," Beck explains. And some of the apparatuses, like the wine barrel tumblers, had to be "MacGyvered."
Opportunities: "We see huge opportunities in the market for giving customers stylish, instantly classic glasses that fit better than anything they've had before," Beck says.
Needs: Like most startups, Pupil needs to grow. "It's nothing immediate," clarifies Beck. "However, I think it's always necessary to have an outlook for growth."