TRACEY: The concept of Retrospecced was born after my daughter, Lucy, had purchased a new pair of designer spectacles. I’m an optometrist, so I squeezed in testing her eyes one evening after work. She’d fallen in love with a new frame, but her old Prada frame was still immaculate, as she’d only ever really used them for night driving. Because they were hardly worn, Lucy didn’t feel like she could justify getting a new pair simply because she was bored with her old ones.
Lucy wanted to donate her old pair of glasses to the charity, Vision Aid Overseas, where they would be distributed and used by someone who would further benefit from them. She was aghast when she realized that this was no longer happening—it is a logistical nightmare for charities to exactly match up an individual’s prescription with an appropriate pair of donated frames. A few years ago, The World Health Organization had concluded that sending glasses overseas was not the most sustainable way of providing eye care in the developing world. So, in the end, donated frames were merely recycled for their scrap metal value and were not repurposed. This seemed such a waste for the thousands of pristine frames (mostly made out of plastic) donated each week—like Lucy’s Pradas.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results.”
—apparently Albert Einstein (though that’s debated!)
LUCY: This started us thinking—I couldn’t be the only person who quite fancied a new style after an eye test but hated the thought of wasting a perfectly good, stylish pair of glasses! Surely there was something we could do about this. I’m a geologist by training, but at the time, I really wanted a new challenge, and it seemed like perfect timing to look into this further.
My mum is very modest but runs a hugely successful business in the Midlands (in the UK). She has two high-end independent opticians’ practices that she has built from scratch over the past 25 years—which she started when my sister and I were both under the age of five! She has learnt how to run a business by jumping in and doing it herself, and hopefully, I’ve absorbed a bit of that mentality over time through chatting about things over dinner whilst growing up.
So, we got in touch with the charity, Vision Aid Overseas, and came to an agreement to work together and sell some of the 70,000 frames donated to VAO each week. We, in turn, donate 20% of what we sell each frame for to Vision Aid Overseas to support their amazing work providing vision care across Africa. And, as my mum is an optician, we can customise all of our glasses with new prescription lenses—turning them into varifocals, sunglasses or whatever people want!
Most of our revenue comes through people finding us on Google or through Instagram. Hashtags are great for finding likeminded people who appreciate the sustainability focus of Retrospecced, which is a key factor in their future decisions for also buying their next pair of glasses! Vintage fairs and festivals have also proved important for engaging with potential and existing customers. When you’re an online business, such as ours, having an actual interaction with people (whether in person or on social media) is important.
I think we’re very lucky in that when it comes to running a business together, we are often on the same wavelength about most of the big decisions—perhaps that’s the family connection! My mum brings experience in how to actually run a business and pitfalls to avoid, whereas I can bring a fresh approach to trying new things.
In our regular routine, we find it really important to schedule in actual business meetings—rather than just having a chat about our day and mentioning a few work things too. It is inevitable that we will also chat about Retrospecced during our mother/daughter discussions, but it’s very important to have separate business meetings too. In these meetings, we create tasks and goals, and then in follow-up meetings, we review to confirm if these have been achieved—and if not, work out why they have not.
“Fake it until you make it.”
TRACEY: Lucy lives a few hours from me now, so that’s helped naturally divide up our roles. All of the frames are with me, and it makes sense for me (with help from my friend Wendy!) to do the physical side of the business—sorting out orders as they come in, getting them glazed and posted out. Lucy focusses on the digital and marketing side of the business including Instagram, which is a really useful platform for us. We play to our strengths.
We’ve become a lot more technologically-advanced than I ever would have thought! With help from my son-in-law, we now organize everything through online platforms such as Trello and Slack. This lets all of the team, regardless of where we’re located, keep up to date with exactly where every order is, and we can do it all through our mobile phones! We have customers across the globe, so being able to stay on top of everything digitally is important to us! Embracing technology allows us to do this.
TOGETHER: Every business is constantly developing, and Retrospecced is no exception. There’s no such thing as standing still in business—you’re either going forwards, or you’re going backwards. Listening to our customers is vital in shaping a product that they actually want, and this is ever-changing. For example, we’ve recently expanded the range of lenses we offer to include varifocals, which is proving really popular. We’re currently also working on an innovative way of measuring up the lenses for each individual online.
We love the fact that Retrospecced gives frames a new lease of life. In this day and age, upcycling is becoming so important to have a more sustainable future. What’s really key to being an entrepreneur is having the courage to jump in and give it a go! If you make mistakes, you will typically learn from them, so you shouldn’t see them as failures.