monocle eyewear singapore
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In this day and age, it’s common for Singaporeans to not have a perfect eyesight.

In fact, Singapore has been dubbed as the “myopia capital of the world” because the rate of myopia here is among the highest in the world. 65 per cent of children in Singapore become myopic by age 12, and 83 per cent of young adults are also myopic.

As such, glasses have become an essential accessory and this is no exception for 24-year-old friends Lee Zhe Yi and Hejia Zhang.

They first got acquainted as classmates at Hwa Chong Institution, though they are now both undergrads at different universities. Zhe Yi’s studying at King’s College London and Hejia at the Singapore Management of University. The both of them are also currently working with industry advisors on R&D for a recycled packaging startup.

With a keen interest in design, both of them saw an opportunity to create “something different” for the stagnant eyewear market in Singapore.

This prompted them to start up Monocle in 2019, which they position as a “mass premium Singapore brand”, combining premium quality and designs at affordable price points, starting from S$105 including prescription lenses.

“For something that so strongly defines how we look, why can’t glasses be as interchangeable as the outfits we buy and the shoes we wear?” they questioned.

“While products like televisions, fabrics and laptops are getting cheaper and better, glasses remain needlessly expensive, way more than it actually costs to make them.”

Although they are aware that making a good pair of glasses is not easy, they strive towards achieving both quality and fair pricing through a modern approach in production and retail.

Good design meets fair pricing

At Monocle, the co-founders prioritise getting “every detail right” — they want to perfect every single aspect of the business: product design, quality, branding, eye tests, cost transparency, customer service, and aftercare.

[We] cannot overstate the importance of eye health — something our head optometrist Mervin is passionate about. The glasses buying experience shouldn’t be rushed or condensed, just like how one wouldn’t cut corners during a clinic check-up. And why would you, when you [don’t even frequently] buy glasses?

– Lee Zhe Yi, co-founder of Monocle
monocle eyewear singapore
Monocle prides itself on premium and quality designs / Image Credit: Monocle

Monocle claims that their glasses are made with the same premium materials as the expensive frames in designer boutiques. Their acetate frames are cut from sheets of Italian cellulose acetate, while their metal frames are made using high-quality stainless steel and titanium.

These frames are then hand-polished before undergoing a stringent quality control check. After passing these checks, the frame is then engraved with Monocle’s logo and their individual frame name. Before they are mailed out, the glasses undergo a final round of inspection by their team of optometrists and opticians.

According to Hejia, they work closely with manufacturers that produce for established brands for frames. On the other hand, their lenses are manufactured by certified local lens laboratories in Singapore, though they also carry lenses from other brands such as Hoya, Essilor and Kodak.

monocle eyewear singapore
Traditional model vs Monocle’s model / Image Credit: Monocle

They also focused on keeping prices low by adopting a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model that eliminates the middlemen in the traditional supply chain, such as licence holders, manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and consignment stores.

High-end fashion labels don’t create and manufacture their own eyewear. They sell licensing rights to their brand name to a few big corporations, who churn out glasses with the designer logos they’ve licensed. These are sold on to suppliers or optical shops, compounding a sky-high price markup many times over.

As a local, independent start-up, our design work is done in-house, while we work in direct partnership with our manufacturers, and engage customers directly. This lets us provide great-looking, top quality prescription glasses at a much lower price.

– Hejia Zhang, co-founder of Monocle

They are earning a “high six-figure annual revenue”

monocle eyewear singapore
Customers trying out Monocle’s glasses / Image Credit: Monocle

Since day one, they’ve worked hard at raising brand awareness through social media and word-of-mouth, which has helped garner a lot of media coverage for them too.

It’s therefore not surprising then that they received a positive response when Monocle first launched. Their debut collection of frames sold out within weeks, prompting an “overwhelming backlog of preorders”, said Zhe Yi.

He added that it was heartening to see growing spends among customers, as high as S$3,000 for a pair of glasses.

Without revealing detailed figures, Hejia said that they pumped in a “low investment sum” to start up Monocle, and managed to quickly break even and achieve profitability.

He also shared that they have been seeing good growth, earning a “high six-figure annual revenue”.

From pop-up to physical stores

To understand the eyewear industry, the co-founders would conduct thorough market and product research and to further understand consumer pain points, they also ran pop-up stores at Joo Chiat and Bugis, beyond just operating online.

It was challenging because in those early days, both of them had to wear multiple hats due to limited resources. They would personally make the deliveries, as well as design these pop-up stores.

Although manpower was an issue at the start, they have since ramped up headcount and now have a team of staff handling Monocle’s daily operations.

Following the success of the two pop-up stores for the past two years, the co-founders have decided to make a leap to launch a physical retail store, which they recently opened at Keong Saik in July.

monocle eyewear singapore
Monocle’s first outlet at Keong Saik / Image Credit: Monocle

[We] always planned on establishing a physical presence from the start. Buying eyewear is at its core a physical and highly personalised experience — from trying on frames to find a perfect fit, to doing an eye test, to selecting lenses, and having further glasses adjustments done.

Technology serves as an aid — for instance, we have a virtual try-on service for online shoppers — but when glasses choices and fits are about millimetre differences and when eye care is involved, nothing beats the physical experience.

– Lee Zhe Yi, co-founder of Monocle

This is a clear testament to how businesses continue to move towards an omnichannel approach despite the great emphasis on digitalisation, which has been propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about their future business plans, the co-founders didn’t share any specific plans but merely said that they want to “take things one step at time”.

Featured Image Credit: Monocle

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)