With the ability to customize anything and everything from furniture, to cars, and makeup, why not glasses? Self-expression, uniqueness, and customization, all wrapped into one is the business model behind MEsquad. Founded by Katherine and Mauro Giovannone, MEsquad empowers kids to express their creativity by designing their own glasses. We sat down with Katherine to see what sparked the idea of MEsquad.
How did you get involved in the eyewear industry?
I started in banking first. I love math and economics but I strongly disliked corporate banking culture. I longed to work in fashion but didn’t know where or what I wanted to do with fashion. This was all pre-social media. So when I saw Missoni was hiring, I applied, not knowing at the time it was for eyewear and sunglasses. From there, I worked with some big licensed brands (Jean Paul Gaultier, Anna Sui, Vivienne Westwood) and then moved into the independent eyewear brands, which then lead me to distribution (David Yurman and Judith Leiber), to designing our own collections (Emmeline and Metrospec) to inventing a whole new product – MEsquad.
Where did the idea for MEsquad come from?
My years of being in the industry led me here. The countless tradeshows, trunk shows, meetings with clients, all led to discussions about what’s in, out, missing, etc. My husband really encouraged me to go for it. He is someone who wears a very strong prescription and as a kid, he went through a lot of glasses – and he hated wearing them. Kids is an under-utilized market with great potential. Kids hate wearing glasses, and they need them as their eyes and vision develop, so why not create something for them and only them?
What has it been like launching a business during COVID?
Challenging. Initially, we received our proto-types in January (pre-covid), had a photo shoot and we were ready to present it to our brick and mortar stores for B2B sales at Vision Expo in NYC in March. Then the world shut down. We immediately realized that the world is forever changed, as well as consumer behaviour, so we re-designed the frames so it would be sold direct-to-consumer, with no tools required. Getting the patents, designs, designing the patterns on the frames, to proto-typing, approving, zoom factory visits (since we can’t travel), opposite time zones, to a shipping nightmare – all while homeschooling and running our B2B. It was very challenging, but was so worth it.
Have you seen an increase or “boom” in the industry during COVID? E.g. due to extended use of screen time, etc.
Yes, especially in blue-light filtering lenses for kids. Pre-covid, kids, at least my child, had minimal screen time. Since covid happened, we as parents, relied on electronics to help us get through the day. Blue-light filtering lenses are now more important than ever.
What does a day in the life of Katherine Giovannone look like?
Every day is different, but the mornings are always the same. It starts at 6am. I get up and get my daughter ready or make breakfast, while my husband gets her ready. I throw on gym clothes, get her to the bus by 7am, come home and do a workout (Peloton tread), shower change, make a shake and head to the office. Depending on the day, it’s usually filled with meetings, lots of meetings, and planning the next 3 months through strategy sessions. Head home, make dinner, do homework with my daughter or take her to karate, piano or Spirit of Math. Take her to bed, relax for an hour or so and am usually asleep by 10.
What is your biggest takeaway as a small business owner?
To have a strong support system if you can. Being an entrepreneur can be incredibly challenging (hello Covid) and sometimes it crushes you. And the only people that can really help you through these challenges are other entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur is tough, but so rewarding in every way. I show up everyday and say “We did that. We created a future and a life for us.” And there is truly no other job out there, that would give me that feeling. Even during the darkest times I find the opportunities.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have changed or done differently starting out?
Maybe started sooner. But it’s hard to say, as everything that has happened in my life, has led me here. And I’m happy here.
Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs on how to get started?
Just do it. Go for it. Go for all of it. I found that once you let go of fear (fear of failure, fear of losing money, fear of what others will say, etc) everything will magically open up for you. But be prepared and don’t go blindly.