High-end sunglass distributors have built a multi-billion dollar business model on one very simple life truth: you will lose your sunglasses. It's not a matter of if but when. Thanks to a new company helmed by Greek-American entrepreneur Aristotle Loumis of Ellison Eyewear, that worry will be a thing of the past, and everyday consumers can get in on his innovation via his outside-the-box crowdfunding campaign on Republic. Ellison Eyewear offers designer quality sunglasses made in Greece using Italian components. More importantly, they eliminate that sinking feeling when you realize “Wait, where are my sunglasses?” Because members can have their sunglasses replaced easily when they lose a pair. Consumers far and wide have been investing in Ellison Eyewear on their Republic where they can buy a pair of Ellison Eyewear sunglasses at full price along with a Club Membership and for an entire year have full access to current and future frames at exclusive membership pricing (50% off).
We had a chance to interview Aristotle Loumis and asked about his story, how he started his business and the future of Ellison Eyewear.
I was born in Greece and grew up in Chicago, one of 8 children raised by a single parent. From humble beginnings, I was raised on the principles of hard work and education. I always had a bit of the entrepreneurial spirit. As a teen, I took to the wealthier areas of the city and offered my services as “the neighborhood poop scooper”. Soon, I was making $400 per week. Not the most glamorous work by any means, but it taught the me about hard work, and that it’s possible to create a business from a simple idea. At 18, I headed to University of Iowa to study dentistry. I still split time between, Greece, Iowa, and Chicago, and I refer to myself as “Greek born, city raised, and corn fed.” As I began my studies, two distinct happenings made me rethink my path. I went to Greece to meet my father — a successful entrepreneur in his own right — for the first time. I was inspired by the culture, beauty, and history of Greece.Seeing a photo of a cataract patient who’d gotten his sight back made me begin to reconsider his career path. I wanted to help people with eye issues, but there had to be a way to create something more meaningful than simply hosting fundraisers or donating to various causes. I began to investigate business opportunities. My father told me something very important. He said, ‘All you need is one person to believe in you, and I believe in you.’ I’d always been somewhat of an entrepreneur, but I became compelled to take it to a higher level.
Ellison Eyewear: a unique vision. While researching business ideas, I learned that the sunglasses industry was basically controlled by two manufacturers. They own the licensing and rights to the top sunglasses brands. Think Ray-Ban, Oakley, Prada, Chanel, and others. People are paying top dollar for them. I saw the potential in this $100 billion industry, and teamed up with business partner Ravi Patel. Together, we set out to build a company that was based on creating a social driven, high-quality product, with each telling a unique story.
Handmade in Greece. Passionate about Greece, I used this as inspiration to not only name the product, but to also develop a way to help Greece during these troubled times. The name Ellison is a play on the Greek word for the sun, “Elios”. “Who knows about sun better than the Greeks?” Ellison was easier to pronounce and therefore made the product more accessible to a global audience. Seeing that Greece was in need of economic stimulation, and as a way to create jobs, we decided to manufacture Ellison Eyewear in Greece. With 16 employees, I proudly stated that this has brought about a quarter of a million dollars into the Greek economy. Each pair of glasses is handmade in Greece, utilizing the finest materials imported from Italy, and lenses created by Carl Zeiss, a leader in the optics industry, since 1846.
How did you come up with your business name?
Ellison— a derivative from the Greek word for sun, Elios, is all about fashion and the best quality sun glasses available on the market today.
Tell us about you social cause?
Look Good, Do Good. Companies must have a bigger purpose. Our mission is to make the best glasses and do good in this world. Through our close relationships with our customers, we are able to empower them to engage in social outreach and community development programs. It's time we give the power back to the people and build companies that solve the problems we want solved. We provide a tangible way for our community to be the change we want to see in the world. We have been on a quest for the last three years, providing eyesight to those in need and building homes that create safe spaces for those who need it. Every year, our team sponsors multiple impact-travel excursions with local partners dedicated to closing the gap on social issues and those who want to help solve them. We allow our community to truly involve themselves, first hand, in an immersive philanthropic experience alongside like-minded journeyers, while exploring some of the most beautiful corners of the earth. To date, our community has built 40 new homes in Nicaragua for families living in slum conditions. While just this past year, in the face of the Syrian refugee crises, we packed our bags and headed to Greece where we built the first of many Ellison Marketplaces to aid the Syrian refugee crisis.
Giving a gift of sight. Each purchase helps pave the way to helping make eyesight care more accessible. With every pair of sunglasses and Club Ellison membership sold, Ellison will provide sight to somebody in need in one of three ways:
1) Spectacles for children. The results of giving glasses to the child are miraculous – have access to basic eye care makes the difference in children's education.
2) Building Vision Centers for the poor. Many rural areas don’t have access to basic eye care. Our donations help build eye care centers to provide help to people in need.
3) Training eye health personnel. Along with the shortage of eye care access, the rural clinics that do exist lack trained staff. Our donations help train the personnel to provide basic eye care.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
The business proposition itself was quite compelling, but Ellison Eyewear took it a step further, introducing an industry-first: an insurance program that allows one to replace their lost, broken, or stolen eyewear at a discounted price. This was inspired by a time when I lost his sunglasses while traveling. “This is a common annoyance that wasn’t being addressed by major eyewear companies. It inspired Club Ellison. We want our products to empower people to tap into their own adventurous spirit. We say, ‘Don’t worry, get lost.” With the purchase of Ellison Eyewear, customers are eligible to join the club for just $10. Members receive 50% off all replacement sunglasses. This is great for those apprehensive to spend the extra money on quality sunglasses, because they fear losing them, or like me, worry that the kids will break them. Additionally, half of all membership fees are donated to other nonprofits. These are yet other ways that Ellison serves their customers, and gives back.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
Our 5 to 10 year business plan is centered on new efficiencies within the Ellison consumer purchase funnel. With the Wholesale and Pop-Up processes streamlined, this sales channel is ready for growth and only requires a capital investment in order to advance our scaling efforts. Ever improving experience – We’re focused on investing in consumer experience across digital and offline sales touch points. This investment will help us become faster and cut overall costs related to product development without lowering the quality. Data analysis – We have integrated more data and insights into our product development and online conversion strategy which we are seeing steady ROI from. Your investment will be used to make this area of our business even more sophisticated. We will be focusing heavily on Club Ellison, which is continually proving to be a significant growth and profit channel for our brand because there is nothing like this model currently available to consumers. New market – We have successfully expanded our UVA and UVB protective Ellison BlueTech line as well as Ellison optics. Our success in this area has depleted our inventory in just three months and we need your investment to fill orders in this robust market opportunity: the eyewear market size is projected to reach $184.03 billion by 2024 (source: grandviewresearch)
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
Carve out a niche. Despite what mass media would lead us to believe, you don’t need to be the creator of the iPhone, or Facebook or the electric car to have something unique to offer the world. Some ideas simply do what’s always been done but cheaper or better. Some ideas come along and try tackle an existing problem from a slightly different angle. And yes, some ideas are brand new and revolutionary in what they have to offer the world. Wherever your idea sits on this spectrum is far less important than why YOU and YOUR BUSINESS are uniquely positioned to offer your customers something they simply can’t get from anyone else. What that something is will be entirely up to you. Are you better? Faster? Cheaper? Friendlier? More available? The possibilities are endless. What matters is why customers should choose you over others. Understand your competition and what makes you different, but focus on what makes YOU great – not them.
What is your favorite business quote?
“Entrepreneurship is a community sport.” -Aristotle Loumis, Ellison Founder
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
At its core, Ellison is a company with roots in Greece. And thanks to a new and innovative method that allows crowdfunding equity investing, people can become owners of a chunk of the company with as little as $30 a pop. People from throughout the world have bought into the concept and today, Ellison is the fastest growing equity crowdfunding project on the Republic.co platform.
Why Crowdfunding? Since Ellison has been built by our loyal customers, we want to further strengthen that relationship. Equity crowdfunding is more personal than selling shares in the open market, allowing investors a stronger level of buy-in with the company. When you invest in Ellison, you are investing in a company that actively seeks to improve the quality of life for communities around the globe. We share this opportunity with our investors to get them involved in a social good whether it’s providing eyesight to somebody in need or building homes for the refugee crisis in Greece or across poverty stricken areas in Latin America. We are here to do good, while having fun in the process. Investment in Ellison is an investment in a growing brand, in dedication to product and service and in the strong ideals that guide our business. We Invite You To Join The Movement. While we are laser-focused on growing our business, we are bigger than just outfitting fashion eyewear protection. We have lost things ourselves and we never forget how it burns. We are turning this insight into a movement and bringing people peace of mind, allowing them to live their life of adventure without worrying about the little things. We want you to be part of it – and invite you to join us for the ride.