Keep an eye on: Megan Stewart from Smec Eyewear

In an Industry that has had turbulent times over the last few years here in Australia, it is refreshing when you find someone doing something unique and pushing the boundaries. Not many young people I know would consider going into designing Eyewear, and if they did, they would be quickly led into the mass-produced companies on other shores.

But not Megan Stewart. Although ‘accidental’ that she fell into designing Eyewear under the label SMEC, her passion for design, texture and detail have always been her passion. And if you ask me, that’s exactly what eyewear should be. Unafraid to experiment and play with the technical side, Megan’s ideas stem from a strong design aesthetic and her colour work is absolutely stunning. Although only young, this girl is going places – FAST.

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I first came across Megan on good ‘ol Instagram, where I was browsing her feed and knew I just HAD to reach out to her. I mean, she’s young, fun, inspired and pushing Eyewear boundaries – Everything I stand for! After emails back and forth I knew her natural passion for her products was going to be contagious not just to me, but for everyone that comes into contact with her stunning collection.

Founded in 2016, SMEC eyewear has started to develop into a collection that attracts a specific consumer; one that appreciates design and detail, sees eyewear as a statement, not something to hide behind, and someone who understands the power of story-telling. So, even if it was unintentional to end up designing Eyewear, Megan has truly found a unique niche market that is going to support her and SMEC moving forward in the Australian, and International Eyewear scene.

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Lucky for me, I was able to try, play and review some on the SMEC prototypes from the first couple of collections. I could not contain my excitement when I opened the box full of all of these unique designs! The colours are what attracts me to each piece initially. All the samples I saw were made of Titanium, and had been coloured with Blues, purples, golds and pinks and were reminiscent of oil-beads from the 70’s. Absolutely stunning, and due to the process used to finish these frames, no two are ever exactly the same. You all know I LOVE when you can get something unique, that is not mass produced!

Being Titanium, of course they are extremely lightweight to wear, and having metal frames coming back into fashion at the moment, these designs are leading the way. The shapes are like nothing I have seen on the shelves in Australia. With Megans silversmith designing background, she approaches these with a unique perspective of designing for a unique style, rather than what is likely to ‘sell’ to the masses. Pure genius. This is where we need growth in Australian Eyewear- right where people least expect it.

img_0385I was lucky enough to be able to ask Megan a few questions about herself and SMEC eyewear.

TEG: Why did you get into designing eyewear specifically? Was this always your dream?

MEGAN: I got into designing eye wear completely by accident! I was studying jewellery design at Central TAFE in Perth, once completed I decided to go to the ANU School of Art and Design and majoring in Gold and Silversmithing for 3 years.

In the 3rd year, you have an independent project for your major and you get to choose what you want to make/research/develop. One of my minor classes taught me about a ‘world already full of stuff’ and I thought (and still think now) why add to the world with something doesn’t have a use or purpose? From then, I knew that whatever I designed or made had to have a use and not just be an ‘art piece’.

Someone suggested to me ‘Why don’t you design glasses?’. I’d worn them since I was 14 and thought ‘Pfffft, it’ll be a breeze, they’ll be so easy!’. Oh how wrong was I, continuing the project into my honours year, it was the hardest and most testing 2 years of study I’ve ever had!

My dream was always to pursue a creative career, but I never knew it what field to focus on. Since I started making and designing frames, I couldn’t image not continuing with them. They’ve become part of my identity and I want to share my love and passion for well-designed and made frames with designers, makers and retailers the world over.

 

TEG: What inspires you?

Megan: What inspires me most is life, as cliché as it sounds haha! One of my first frames was designed based on the mountains that surround Canberra, whereas the ‘Home’ collection from 2016, is based upon the streets I grew up on and what that time reminds me of. To me, my frames must have a purpose and meaning. I think people are drawn to things they can relate to or intrigued by and I try to design and make frames that embodies this.

TEG: How would you describe your own personal style?

Megan: Ooof that’s a tough one! I would describe my style as someone who likes to co-ordinate (scrap-booking classes taught 10 year old me more than I thought they would!), but in a lets-just-throw-it-together-and-see-what-happens. Eclectic, but cute with a love of oversized, mental looking earrings.img_9881

TEG: What has your experience been within the eyewear industry?

Megan: My experience so far with the eyewear industry has been mostly brilliant! Since starting in 2016, I’ve met the most encouraging and kind people. Eye Candy eyewear in Canberra, was the first connection I had with the industry and gave me so much help and advice. I’m also in contact with Peter Coombs who offers valuable advice.

I was a bit nervous moving back to Perth, however opticians Blink 182 (Leederville) and August eyewear (Perth CBD) have been really helpful. I recently received a message from another optician in Coogee about my frames so it’s been really encouraging.

TEG: What are your favourite materials to work with?

Megan: My favourite materials to work with are leather and titanium. Leather is a beautiful, natural material that lasts for years, and comes in different colours, textures and variations. It’s also something that ages beautifully and can be passed down to future generations. I have my Grandad’s Spectacle case (that inspired the Smec case!) and wallet that he bought from Turkey in the 1980’s and they look exactly the same all these years later.

Titanium is an incredible material as it’s lightweight, hypo-allergenic, strong and can be coloured. With titanium I feel like any design and colour combination is possible – the possibilities are literally endless.

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TEG: What are the biggest challenges for you with designing eyewear?

Megan: The biggest challenges for me whilst designing eyewear have been the technical elements, including the position of the nose bridge, the inside shape of the lens (the simpler it is, the easier it is to cut and fit) and the specific dimensions of a frame. But the hinge has been the hardest part of the frame to refine and develop. I see myself as a design/aesthetics-based thinker so producing a product that must be technically accurate has been tricky.

TEG: Tell me about your two favourite pieces you’ve designed so far?

The First of my favourite piece’s would be the ‘Kenley’ frame from the 2016 ‘Home’ collection. This frame was pretty much a first frame for everything! It was the first round frame I’d designed, first time I’d anodised my frames and first frame to have sunglass lenses fitted. It features a lavender-coloured top and graduates into the grey, sandblasted finish of the titanium. The Rodenstock lenses complement the finish beautifully as it’s a blue/purple lens that graduates to black. I love them so much; they’ve become my personal pair of sunglasses!

The second piece was a pair of frames I designed for my Mum’s 50th birthday, they’ve been heat treated with all different shades of blue. Weirdly enough, the hinge I designed for it, was the first hinge that functions beautifully with the frame and works exactly as intended. They’re a rectangular frame with rounded corners and feature detailing in the top corners. They’re special pair I designed just for her – I recently sent them off to get sunglass lenses fitted so I’m excited to see what they look like!

TEG: What does the future hold for Smec Eyewear?

The future for Smec eyewear would be refined hinges (new prototypes are getting manufactured as I type!), a new range of frames that are currently in the works featuring bold shapes and incredible colours. I would love to collaborate with other designers and makers, and really push the boundaries of eyewear. I want to encourage those who are studying in creative fields, that even though they don’t know where it’ll lead, just go with it. What I hope for Smec Eyewear is that it’s recognised nationally and internationally for its design and innovation in eyewear. To be able to attend Silmo would be an incredible experience, even just seeing my range in a local, independent optician would be indescribably amazing.

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Megan from SMEC Eyewear

Keep an eye out for Smec’s new collection launching:

To keep an eye on what Megan is up to, head to her Instagram feed : @smec_eyewear

And for the entire collection, info and details for Smec, head to the Website: http://www.smeceyewear.com.au

Em xox

Life as an Optical Dispenser

Over my years in this industry I’ve found that most Optical Dispensers (Opticians) ‘fell’ into this job – I’m sure that there are some people out there that planned it, but the majority of us had no idea that we would end up in this profession until it happened. And I for one wouldn’t change it for anything.

My Story

My own start was quite simple. I had finished VCE and still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I lived in a small rural town and had taken on a part time job at a Newsagency until I ‘figured it out’. After about 6 months of retail, I knew I needed more, so applied for two jobs; one at a Real Estate Agency, and the other at our local Optometrist. I want to be very clear about this – I had absolutely NO connection or idea what happened at either of these businesses at this point. My family didn’t own our house, and no one had ever had glasses in my family either.img_9940

Two weeks later I had secured interviews for both, on the same day, 30 mins apart. The day was HOT – 43 degrees from memory. I went to the Real estate interview first, and it went well. After that, I had a three block walk to the Optometrist where the second interview was being held. I walked quickly in the heat, and as I was early, thought I’d have 10 mins or so to compose myself before going through. I was wrong. They were also running early, and took me in straight away.

Their first question was ‘how has your day been’? My answer? ‘Bloody HOT’.

Oh. My. Goodness. But it worked. That one line of being myself, showing that I was ‘real’ and relatable broke the ice and led to a fantastic and fun interview, which ended with a job offer on the spot. If I had have known that I was speaking the THE legendary Kevin Paisley himself that day, things may have gone a very different way, but I’m glad they didn’t.

The Reality

Working as an Optical Dispenser is not even close to what most people think it is. You have to be energetic, a problem solver, have a naturally caring nature, technically savvy, hands on, curious, love fashion, on top of trends, good with stock management….it’s a role unlike any other. However, because of the roles complex nature it is so much more rewarding than most other jobs. You actually make a difference to people’s lives at the end of the day, you solve their problems, help them with sight, assist in emergencies, help grow someone’s confidence, get to be a style consultant, and believe me, there is nothing quite like seeing a child’s eyes light up when they try on their first pair of glasses and see the world as it is. Priceless.

img_7694So, what is an ‘Optical Dispenser’?

There are so many answers to this question it drives me absolutely crazy. I’m going to start this by explaining what it meant when I started, back in 2002. Back then, an Optical Dispenser- also an Optical Mechanic- was trained, and qualified to a National Standard. I did my qualification through RMIT University in Melbourne and it covered everything from the Science of the eye, Science of light and reflection/refraction, lens materials, basic Optometry and terminology, Retail, Sales, Practice management, How to repair glasses, make frames, hand edge (grind) lenses into a frame, lens tinting…..I could go on forever. This course was not brand or store specific – it was Industry specific. I was proud to be called a qualified Optical Dispenser and Mechanic.

These days things are different. It is not essential that you have this qualification to work in a similar position in an Optical practice. People can come from anywhere, be trained by someone they work with and then refer to themselves as an Optical Dispenser. This isn’t the place to say what’s right or wrong etc but I think consumers have the right to know when they are being assisted by someone that is qualified in their field, or not. There is a huge difference, and I know I’d sure like to know. This change started about the time that a certain very large budget chain of eyewear stores opened in Australia approximately 15 years ago. Due to their need for a lot of staff on the floor, they created their own ‘training’ package and that became acceptable. The problem being, that because this training was internal, it was not regulated and only taught employees what the company needed them to know to sell THEIR products. Over the years I have worked with a fair few people who started out with one of these courses, walking into a role in an Independent Practice thinking that they knew what they were doing. Most of them looked extremely shell-shocked by the end of the day and confused about what they had been led to believe about the industry. It really is a big world out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are fully qualified Dispensers working at some of these chains as well, assisting new starters and sharing their experiences and knowledge, which is great. But that doesn’t mean working in one chain store with minimal industry exposure is going to set a person up as the equivalent of a qualified Dispenser/Mechanic.

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A very general idea of what an Optical Dispenser actually does

Lets take a quick look at the day-to-day role of an Optical Dispenser in Australia. Most of us start the day by getting into work early to make sure the store is looking amazing, review the patients for the day ahead, and ensure all equipment is ready for the Optometrist. We do reception roles like banking, dealing with Medicare, Health Funds and Institutions along with customer bookings, payments and repairs. When a patient comes out of an Eye exam, we discuss with them the results from the Optometrist and make sure they understand the recommendations, as well as making sure it will cover their needs. We help with frame and lens selection which can take anywhere from 5 mins up to 5 days or longer in some cases. We do repairs on the spot. We quote for bigger technical repairs and organise couriers. We liaise with the lens manufacturers about stock, lens quality issues, and prescriptions. We discuss outcomes with the Optometrists to make sure the recommendations and outcomes are the best for every single patient. We assist with health issues and emergencies which can be anything from detached retinas, foreign objects stuck in the eye, stuck contact lenses- you name it, we’ve seen it! We help with Sunglass selection for prescription, or sports performance, and spend hours helping families select a child’s first pair of glasses, especially if they are special needs or do not like the idea of wearing them!img_0368

Believe me, this is an extremely short list. Every time I read this, I come up with another 3-4 things we do on a daily basis, but I can’t write them all or we’ll be here for days! So on top of all of this, we get to be an ear for a lonely senior, a shoulder to cry on for someone that has nowhere else to turn. We – especially females- cop a lot of comments about being a ‘receptionist’, and asking where the ‘male boss’ is by generations that don’t know any different.

What it really means to be an Optical Dispenser

And through all of this we smile. We take a few deep breathes (in my case, eat chocolate) and get back out there with a spring in our step ready to help the next person. Why you ask? Because we are making an actual difference to these people’s lives. We are helping them with our most important sense. We love our job because we cover so many areas it is never boring. We are always learning about new technologies and developments in Eye care and health. We are excited by positive outcomes of solutions we create for our customers and surgeries that improve a patient’s vision. We get excited when we see a frame rep with new models of eyewear that we can show our customers, and can’t wait to call people when their glasses are ready so they can show them off.

It’s not an easy job, but I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. This qualification has led me to many different opportunities over the years including fashion events, Sales repping, International work and experiences, training, meeting some amazing life-long friends and helping me wake up with a purpose every single day.

The Australian Optical Industry is evolving

What our industry needs now is new blood. We need new go-getters with a passion and drive to exceed where others won’t even think of looking. We need people that want to help people and make a difference to the elite athlete, the 70 year old with cataracts and your next door neighbour who just started school. We are the ones that get to have fun with our customers and build long term relationships. I often get asked why I haven’t gone into Optometry and I always answer the same – that I’d miss having fun out on the floor with my customers! The best people in this role can read customers well and quickly and adapt themselves to any situation. They have an interest in constant learning and an eye for fashion.

img_7518Independent Optometry practices are always looking for that next special person to bring into our industry. Independent Optometry practices are the best places to learn because you will be shown the knowledge based on the Industry, not just a brand. They have time to invest in you and genuinely want you to enjoy your work. They care for their customers and staff like family, as this role does take a lot of you into it, but you also get a lot out. If you’re interested in seeing what this role entails, drop into your local Independent practice and ask if you can make a time to talk to them about it.

Sometimes we have to read, be told or run accidently into something to see that it’s a path worth pursuing. Let me tell you that if you’re still reading this now and are looking for a change, THIS IS YOUR SIGN 😉

PS I was offered the Role at the Real Estate agency as well, but luckily I followed my gut instinct and went into the Optical Industry. And I have never looked back.

Em xox