Theo eyewear is a Belgium based eyewear company that’s been family owned and operated since 1987 in Antwerp. Known for their bold colours, quirky shapes, and “swimming upstream” philosophy, Theo is not your typical eyeglass brand.
We sat down with Mik Somers, co-owner and son of co-founder, Wim Somers, to chat about this eclectic brand.
The interview has been edited and condensed for readability and brevity.
Tell us about the history of Theo – how did it all begin?
It started when my dad opened an optical store in the 80s and he couldn’t find eyewear for his customers. He would say, “What I have to sell now doesn’t make me happy, it doesn’t make my customers happy, it’s all very generic”. Being a fresh optician, he wasn’t able to get his hands on the few good lines that existed at the time.
He met with Patrick from Bruges, at a Cartier evening, where they both realized what they were selling was not making them happy. It wasn’t until 1989 that they developed the first physical Theo frames, which they knew would put smiles on their patients’ faces. They had something to sell to customers, which they knew when they walked out of the store, the next day, their new chapter would begin.
Describe the brand in three words.
Unique, colourful, and humorous!
We’ve seen a lot of changes in the optical industry since the 80s – where do you hope to see the future of eyewear and the optical industry?
The place and part we will play in the optical industry will hopefully always be the same – and that is in small, individual, human-run stores. The person-to-person contact is very important to us, and human-to-human contact plays a very important role in making sure when people leave our physical stores that they have a smile on their face. I hope the optical industry is going to evolve in a very pure way, and there will always be room for our authentic and very unique products.
The online world is for mass products, and for the masses. We want to avoid the mass products. COVID has only made the importance of the physical optical store more obvious, and the importance of marrying the medical and retail aspects of physical stores.
Where do you get the inspiration behind each collection and how long is each collection in development?
It’s actually very funny you ask. From the very first drawing, to what you have in the launch of a new product, development lasts from anywhere between one and a half years up to four years, which is how long it’s taken for the new “astronaut” collection. (Astronauts) Its made from extremely complex material (aluminium). It’s made in a factory close to Geneva, and the guys who make “astronauts” also make a lot of the parts for Patek watches, which shows how precise the handiwork is for frames like the Astronauts. We play like a ping pong game with the factory until we get to the perfect product.
Space is all made of aluminium and it’s an unexplored world, and many things can happen, and many things can go wrong – in perfect alignment with what we do with the “astronauts” (frames).
The “Swings” were developed in 1.5 years – which is the fastest possible for a new collection. When you have the three acetates, you see the swing, and think back to childhood and the joy you have on a swing. For Dee, the designer, it’s all about joy, happiness, and having that present in your frame. Whenever you wear a happy collection like the swings, it all adds up and it all makes sense. It’s very fun and playful and is reminiscent of childlike playfulness – hence “swing”.
What would you say to someone who is a little afraid to wear Theo?
Do it step by step. As soon as you receive the first compliment, all doubt falls away. And this is exactly why we work with human beings, to ensure the conversation with the customer helps to bring the other human to another level.
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