THERE are 300 million people in the world who are out of work or not in school because they don’t have access to a pair of glasses, and whether you choose cats’ eyes, aviators or this season’s jelly framed sunglasses may appear to be of little consequence to them. However, if your shades are from Shauns California, it matters, because for every pair sold, someone in the developing world gets an eye test and a pair of prescription spectacles.
“When you put the glasses on, someone somewhere else in the world gets to do that too,” says Shaun Paterson, founder of the brand. “Through our Give Sight scheme, someone in Honduras or Ecuador benefits, and we’re working on another clinic in Cambodia. We want people who buy the sunglasses to enjoy that knowledge and feel good about it. It isn’t about Shaun Paterson solving this problem, it’s about the consumers’ desire to do that,” he says.
Born and educated in Edinburgh, 34-year-old Paterson went to university in London then Stanford in California, emerging with a business degree and a desire to make a difference. From a family of entrepreneurs, he was determined to start his own business but wanted it to be something with a conscience.
“You come out of Stanford and the pressure to take a hedge fund job is right in your face. You have to have a will to go out and do something different,” he says.
A stint in real estate after leaving university in 2008 gave him time to explore the possibilities, and realise that life in California suited him and his young family of three. With its combination of easygoing lifestyle and vibrant economy, not to mention endless hours of sunshine, it was the right time and the right place, and in 2011 he took the plunge and launched Shauns California.
“I wanted to do something that had social impact and couldn’t think what. Then I realised it was right in front of me: eyewear. Could there be anything worse than being without your sight?”
Eye problems were literally in Paterson’s face, since he too is visually impaired, and wouldn’t last very long without contact lenses and prescription glasses, so sunglasses were an obvious choice for him.
“I’m legally blind, and without corrective lenses couldn’t drive, work or look after children. With them, I’m fine. It’s nothing that has affected my life in any significant way but if I didn’t have access to contact lenses or specs I wouldn’t be able to function. That gave me a personal understanding of the issues. I have tried to go without contacts, but couldn’t even do 24 hours,” he says.
“When people come to the clinics, they’ve dropped out of school or can’t get work. They also show up with bad burns from cooking over open flames or injuries, because many of the jobs in poor places are manual and dangerous. When you fix their eyes the elation is incredible. When they see across the room for the first time, or read a paper, it’s amazing.”
“We’re interested in soulful luxury,” he says. “We want it to be a quality and fashionable product, but also help those in need. Give Sight was part of Shauns California from the beginning and from a business standpoint we have an additional cost in the clinic and eye tests. But I wouldn’t have launched this product if it wasn’t included.”
A conscience isn’t all that Shauns California sunglasses have. They have quality and style too, and are stocked in Neiman Marcus stores across the United States. Paterson now has a British chain like John Lewis in his sights too.
“When Neiman Marcus took us that was a big punch the air moment, because we’re offering customers a high quality product and they also approved it from a fashion point of view. We want to think that if the Give Sight element didn’t exist, people would buy them for style reasons anyway,” he says.
With no background in the industry, Paterson spent time sourcing the best materials and designers in Italy, the best lenses from Zeiss in Germany, and paid homage to his homeland in the names. Harris, Lewis, Moray and Argyll frames are included in the extensive range. “Our customers like the Scottish names and back story. They think it’s cool,” Paterson says.
The branding is discreet, with a braille letter S inside the hinge lining only visible when the glasses are not being worn. Where the leg meets the front, a message on one side says Give and on the other Sight, something only the wearer would see. On the lens, too, there’s a Z, an authentication mark that stops the glasses being copied.
Appealing to both men and women, there are geometric and round shapes, colours from military green to grey to pink, and granite or petrified wood finishes. With two releases a year, the brand is now branching out into unshaded spectacles.
Celebrity wearers include Rochelle from The Saturdays, AnnaSophia Robb from The Way Way Back and Christoph Waltz wears them in Tim Burton’s latest release Big Eyes. Ben Affleck has worn them in various films, and Chanel Iman, a Victoria’s Secret model, has just made a film wearing them for the brand.
Paterson is rarely seen without his sunglasses, but then he does live in San Diego County. Rotating various styles from both the men and women’s ranges, he has multiple pairs.
“With three children I have to be careful with them, but I never have a shortage of sunglasses anyway, so it’s not a problem.” n
• Shauns California, sunglasses from £150-£295, (www.shaunscalifornia.com) and Avenue 32 (www.avenue32.com)