If a brand becomes known for its cool, sleek, fun, and forward-thinking products, its headquarters is all but expected to be a reflection of that innovative reputation. That’s not a problem for the rapidly growing eyewear company Krewe, which recently opened the doors of its New Orleans HQ. The brand reimagined a nondescript warehouse into a hybrid space that’s fitting for the dawn of a new decade: It’s part company HQ, part relaxation destination, and part ode to the Big Easy, where CEO Stirling Barrett was raised and ultimately founded Krewe.
After the 4th annual Krewe Fête, a weekend celebration that fundraises for the Krewe Foundation, the brand’s philanthropic arm, Refinery29 caught up with Barrett to discuss Krewe’s supersonic growth, how design influences the brand, the role sustainability plays in his decision-making, and where the company is headed long-term.
You're launching Sun Days, a members-driven weekend space in the heart of New Orleans. Tell us how your vision for the space came to be.
We knew we wanted a cool-looking headquarters. When you’re in New Orleans, you have a lot of challenges — but some opportunities — in the spaces you have. I just thought it was important for the brand to have that. We thought, how can we build spaces here in New Orleans that build communities? This was a real test for us. And in a lot of ways, it still is a test. When the Krewe brand decides to do more experiential things — whether that’s in-store or beyond store — how would that evolve? Everything we’ve done has always been testing, growing, and seeing what works. That’s a lot of what the catalyst for Krewe was here.
Why did you choose this location as opposed to say, the French Quarter? Did you have a particular connection to the neighborhood?
I love plants. Being in the Lower Garden District, [we’re] surrounded by so much lush vegetation while being a mile from our store in the French Quarter. We’re so close to the economic area of the city, but in an area where it feels so much different than your office tower with parking garages and elevators. That’s important to the community and the culture of the brand. It felt like a really dynamic, changing, growing area of the city.
The spatial design is really unique and elevated. What's the inspiration behind it?
We’re a brand that revolves around the sun. Light is extremely important. The openness toward light is super important. Within spatial design in the stores, we’re trying to keep it elevated but minimal so the frames speak for themselves. People can be the added connector within the space. In the headquarters, we’re still extremely focused on light and on the idea of being outside even when you’re inside. We believe design can elevate, whether you’re talking about eyewear, or you’re talking about interior design.
What are the benefits and challenges of being an independent company? Do you have any plans to sell eventually?
No plans to sell. There’s still so much growth opportunity. The brand is still evolving, staying creative, and growing at quite a pace. Until that changes and there’s a different opportunity, we don’t see that in the future.
The goal of being independent was really around allowing us to do what we wanted to do. How could you convince investors that you needed to build a pool in your headquarters? How could you convince them that you needed to be part of a social club and community space? The authenticity of just doing what you feel is important to the brand is the most important thing about being independent.
What do you attribute your success to? What makes Krewe different than brands that seem to be struggling to stay afloat in a challenging retail market?
Because we’re self-funded, there’s no burn rate. On a very high level, we’re not going and buying consumers. People are attracted to what we’re doing. They’re deciding to become a member of the Krewe or purchase a product, which is a huge distinction compared to a lot of these e-commerce-first brands of today.
From a brand side, we’ve always cared so much about quality. With our Second Chances Program, you buy full price from us, and we know shit happens. We will replace your frames for free. That’s beyond quality. That’s customer service, and making sure the customer is first in what we do. Of course, it comes down to the design and being able to speak to your consumer set in a real way. What we’re trying to do is give them products that make them feel great about themselves.
You're also doing great work through the Krewe Foundation.
It was really what the team wanted. The team wanted to give back. We launched last year at this time. Arguably that might’ve been a little soon, but we really needed to make money before we gave it away. That’s what I always told the team. We got to a place where we were making money, and they were saying, “Why aren’t we giving back now?"
The mission is to change the way New Orleans high schoolers see the world by providing them with prescription eyewear. [We provide] Krewe prescription eyewear and eye exams to students in need. Hopefully, we can do that in a way that inspires them to stay here and create their dreams here. The goal for the first year was 300 students, which we’re going to hit and surpass. The goal after that is at least 50 to 100% growth year over year. Pretty soon, we’ll be able to impact the whole New Orleans market. Then we’ll have an interesting inflection point of what’s next.
So the brand is socially responsible, is it important to be environmentally-friendly as well? How sustainable is the manufacturing process?
I’m happy to say that by, I believe, the beginning of next year, all our packaging will be fully biodegradable and recyclable. There will be no plastic in the packaging that lives forever, which was a huge first step for the brand. And then inherently, acetate is a raw material. It’s a plastic-like material, but it can be plant-based, and we often try to use plant-based materials. Our new active line has at least 50% bio material in every frame we make.
As the technology gets there, we’re adapting and growing with it. But the truth is, we need quality first, and we need sustainability a close, close second. When those two things meet, that’s when things make a lot of sense. That’s where we jump on them.
What advice would you give to an emerging designer starting an accessories brand in this uncertain climate?
You’ve got to stay focused. So many people move as fast as we scroll Instagram. A lot of designers feel that same way about their designs. You’ve got to stay focused to know what’s true to what you’re creating. And then the reality is, you’ve got to find that SKU — that one frame, that one shirt, that one dress, that one whatever — that’s going to sell out. That people just can’t live without and will be on a waiting list for.
What are your long-term goals for the brand?
We want to continue growing. We did the hard thing first. We truly started as a sun brand and built a pretty loyal consumer base through that. Now we’re moving into ophthalmic, and ophthalmic optical is growing at the same rate sun was six years ago. We just launched active this year, and we expect it to grow at the same rate.
We are continuing to open stores. I’m a big believer in concentric circle growth — the idea that we have a circle [with stores in] New Orleans and New York. We’re connecting those. And now we’re growing out west. Depending on the economic climate of the future, Europe is going to be the next expansion point to the brand beyond the U.S.