A Closer Look at the Details with Glass Optical
We were thrilled to sit down with Paul and his father, Stephen, to learn more about their new venture in the optical world. Their passion for the well made and well used is inspiring to our community of artists.
A Glass Optical employee sticks his head into the break room mid-morning. Coffee is brewing and co-owner Paul Wilkes, sits back comfortably on a high stool, one foot up, arms crossed.
“A customer brought these in — look. They’re scratched — feel it. And it’s that Vanity 167 lens. Do you want me to reorder this or put him in something nicer?”
“Put him in something nicer,” says Paul without hesitation. “Tell him we’ll replace them for free.”
“Do you want me to replace just the one or both of them?”
“No replace both of them. Tell him we’ll order the lenses and he can just pop back by when we get them. Should take only 15 minutes to replace them.”
This type of conversation isn’t unusual at Glass Optical. Paul and Stephen Wilkes created the new South Dallas eyewear shop out of a deep respect for doing business right from beginning to end.
Both Stephen and Paul Wilkes speak without whim.
Although they’re men of few words, the Wilkes’ are more precise than they are terse, and their conversation leaves you overcome by faith in their trustworthy character.
As the two re-tell the story and philosophy behind their business, echoing each other as they go, it’s clear they care — about each other, their work, their customers, and perhaps most importantly, every last detail.
Stephen has been an optometrist in Dallas for over 30 years. He owned his own practice for 25 of those years, and although he enjoyed the work, admits the optometry business is typically one of high volume and long hours. On average, he would see between 40–70 people in a day, often working late into the night to finish Medicaid and insurance paperwork.
“You have lots of people and lots of waiting rooms,” said Stephen. “You end up just sending frames out the door.”
Paul grew up working for his father during the summers and observed an entrenched system difficult to oppose. Most eyewear companies are owned by the same, huge conglomerate that controls the quality of frames and lenses even for designer names like Prada and Guess. There are only a handful of independent eyewear designers in the entire world — a small group that works hard to maintain control of the quality, price point and distribution of their product.
Introduced to this world of independent designers in college, for the first time Paul realized eye care and eyewear could be more than an uncomfortable and impersonal visit to the doctor, but an optical shop that only carried handmade eyewear with excellent customer service was hard to come by. Although Paul began work as a graphic designer when he finished school, he preserved the idea for such a business in the back of his mind for the next 9 years.
“There was a point in college where I was like, ‘Maybe I should do this.’ But I just kept putting it to the wayside,” he says.
After his mom passed away in 2012, however, Paul began dreaming again of a space to sell the work of these independent designers. He knew the business would allow him to spend more time with his dad.
It was also a unique opportunity for the father and son to combine their talents in order to meet a huge need in Dallas.
“I was still interested in glasses. I ran around to all the shops in Dallas, and I couldn’t find anything that was hyper-specialized — someone taking glasses and pairing it down to just the coolest stuff you could find, selling it for a decent price with good customer service, and a cool looking shop.”
For a full year, Paul researched and met with independent designers while thinking through the copious number of aesthetic and functional details for the shop. The moment you step through the shop’s front door, his intensive preparation is evident. Designed by wife Megan with touches of Art Deco and Victorian inspiration, each and every element has thought behind it including the black and white mosaic tiling on the bathroom floor.
The niceties of a space should not only be done well to complement the product sold, but they should also be done well in order to highlight the product sold. Paul works to stay away from fads and gimmicks for this very reason — he wants each frame of eyeglasses and sunglasses to stand on it’s own as a design worthy of a customer’s time and money.
The interior remains intentionally clear of any point of sale clutter in order for all attention to remain on the rows of handmade, unique eyeglasses spanning the eastern wall. The work of designers from all over the world complete Glass’ inventory of over 500 uncommon frames, including work from California-based Garrett Leight, vintage-inspired Moscot, and the playful children’s line Sons & Daughters. A huge, neon sign of the Great Gatsby’s famous quote on Dr. T.J. Eckleberg hangs on the opposite side of the shop, just in case you didn’t realize this wasn’t your run of the mill optical experience.
This past summer, Stephen sold his practice and Glass Optical opened just a few weeks later. Word spread quickly that Glass Optical was the only place in Texas to find some of world’s the best-made frames, and Paul says they’ve received orders for frames from all over the state.
Paul has the unique ability as an artist and a designer to give equal value to both function and form. Quality is not valuable just because it’s marketable, but also because of the practical difference it makes.
Photo by Doug Klembara
“It’s less about the brand on the side of the glasses and much more about how it feels on your face, how it looks on you,” says Paul. “I don’t want you to wear something because it says Versace on the side, I want you to wear something because it’s well made and you enjoy the product.”
Glass Optical’s goal is to help a customer make this connection between understanding why craftsmanship matters and truly loving the product they choose to invest in. The key to doing this, the Wilkes say, is to maintain the same love of quality even within the smallest of details.
“It’s the old mentality that if it’s worth doing something, it’s worth doing right.”
“No one ever looks at the details. I don’t want you to walk into this shop and think, ‘This looks haggard, why would I every buy something from here?’ And you can apply that type of thinking to anything small or large,” says Paul. “It’s the old mentality that if it’s worth doing something, it’s worth doing right.”
Originally published at www.weld.co.