East Asians know the struggle of shopping for eyewear — traditional frames meant for very specific facial features just don’t work on our faces with most frames either sitting on our cheeks, sliding down our noses, or sliding up our faces when we smile (and fogging up in the process).
New Yorkers Athina Wang and Florence Shin recognized the need for better-fitting frames for Asian faces which is what led them to start Covry eyewear in 2015. Featuring what they call the “Elevated Fit,” Covry frames feature longer nose pads, a reduced frame curvature and a narrow nose bridge for effortless fit. Rather than sliding down the face, the frames are meant to sit higher and away from your cheeks.
The duo, who have been friends since high school, initially launched their project on Kickstarter and surpassed their goal by a whopping 187 per cent. Now, five years later, Covry has a variety of styles (both for sun and vision!) for men and women available online and in select stores. Each of their styles are designed in New York City and manufactured by family-run partners with over thirty years of experience in the eyewear industry. Each of their frames are made with plant-based, cellulose acetate, a natural material which gives each frame its own special pattern, guaranteeing no two pairs are identical.
Below, Athina and Florence speak to The RepresentASIAN Project about the creation of Covry, the lack of Asian representation they experienced growing up and the importance of diversity when it comes to eyewear.
On realizing the need for better-fitting glasses for Asian faces
Athina: I think it really started when we did do the Kickstarter, because up until then, we really just thought that Florence and I had really weird faces and never found frames that fit (laughs).
Florence: Before that we had talked about the idea with friends and family members but once it was on Kickstarter and really open to the public, people started sending in messages about “Oh my God, I’ve always had this issue” and then once our crowdfunding campaign reached our goal and surpassed it, I think it was really the validation that we needed from the market to be like, “OK, this is a real business idea” vs. something that only Athina and I needed.
Florence: The challenge for us was more trying to educate people on what we call “Elevated Fit” and really getting them to try it out. I think a lot of people at first were not really understanding why they needed it or if it was really going to fit them differently. So it was really just educating them on understanding the difference in our fit and getting them to try it on.
“Now that I’m older, I realize that I didn’t really have other Asian women to look up to growing up… and it’s only now that I realize how powerful that would have been for us.” – Florence
On who inspired them growing up and the lack of Asian representation in media
Florence: For me, growing up, my dad has always owned his own business… he always was his own boss. It was very normal to me to own your own business and be your own boss.
Now that I’m older, I realize that I didn’t really have other Asian women to look up to growing up. It’s only now that I see more Asian representation in Hollywood and everywhere… authors, actresses, motivational speakers. We never really had that growing up and it’s only now that I realize how powerful that would have been for us. We really had to pave our own way.
On celebrating diversity
Florence: Our motto is celebrating diversity and smiling with confidence. I’ve been wearing glasses since the second grade…Athina, I think, since elementary school. So, we’ve always had to settle for frames that didn’t fit right and it always kind of made us feel like we were different, or something was wrong with us.
We really wanted people that wear our frames to feel like, “OK, these are made for me and my beautiful, diverse face shape and there’s nothing wrong with me and these face shapes are what make me whole and beautiful.” We really wanted to celebrate these differences and not see them as something that separates us, but really brings us together and celebrate the fact that we have so many different things about us that make us unique and special.
Athina: For any other industry, there are different sizes… for clothing, especially, there are so many different sizes and shapes and it embraces diversity and diverse body shapes, so why isn’t there something like that for faces, which is even more diverse than body types? Faces can vary… every single person has a different face. A lot of people can fit into a size small. But faces, but it’s like every single person has a completely different face shape. So it just seems really crazy that there was only one type of fit that was supposed to fit every single person. That still doesn’t make any sense to us.
“A lot of Asian people didn’t realize their frames were not fitting them correctly…they were just used to them sitting on their face or fogging up. I think for a lot of people, it didn’t even cross their minds that eyewear shouldn’t fit the way it has been fitting.” – Athina
On the feedback they have received
Athina: A lot of Asian people didn’t realize their frames were not fitting them correctly. I think they were just used to them sitting on their face or fogging up… they just didn’t think there was anything else or they didn’t realize that it was something that was uncomfortable. Once they tried our frames, they would always have such a huge reaction like, “Oh my gosh, this is what it feels like?” I think for a lot of people, it didn’t even cross their minds that eyewear shouldn’t fit the way it has been fitting.
[Our customers] always give us such good feedback and push us forward to keep going. They always like sharing their stories of how the frames changed them or how it makes them feel and confident they are in our frames… we get so many letters and notes and comments about things like that all the time, so that really inspires us to keep doing it and keep going.
Florence: The feedback is amazing. I don’t think that we realize how much it would make a difference because as entrepreneurs, we’re still a small company and there’s a lot of really tough days. But a lot of time hearing from the customers and seeing how it really affects their life, it’s really empowering.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.