Think about this: The global eyewear market was valued at approximately $131.32 billion in 2018. And in the U.S. it is a multi-billion market. Yet there are less than a handful of Black eyewear makers. Considering 164 million American adults wear glasses, according to The Vision Council, there are a lot of consumers looking for eyewear.
Startup eyewear manufacturer Vontélle, LLC, is hoping to change this. Launched in October by two Black female entrepreneurs, Vontélle is moving into the luxury eyewear space, offering unique, ethnic patterns reflecting African, Caribbean, and Latin cultures with frame prices starting at $99. Each pair is handcrafted.
According to Vontélle co-founder Nancey Harris, African-Americans receive less than $3 million annually from the U.S. vision care market. “We are under-represented and under-served in this industry,” she says, “Through social media, African-Americans have brokered a seat at the table and are demanding that brands and marketers speak to us in ways that resonate culturally and experientially.”
Co-founder and CEO Tracy Vontélle Green leads the overall direction of the company, while longtime friend Harris serves as COO with a focus on operations and product design.
Vontélle was born out of a need for both the founders, who each lost their expensive eyewear within the same year and decided they wanted to buy from a Black-owned brand. “After searching high and low for glasses that were stylish and had an ethnic flair, we realized they simply didn’t exist.” Harris says, “That’s when Tracy suggested we start our own line.”
“I have been wearing eyewear for years. And somehow I lost my favorite pair. When I went to get new glasses I found that all the glasses look the same,” Green tells TNJ.com. “I wanted something with more color, more ethnic flair.”
When Green told her friend of more than 20 years, Harris about her idea for a new eyewear line, she was in immediately. In fact, she booked tickets for the two of them to head to an eyewear industry show during fashion week in Paris — without first telling Green. “She called and told me to take off from work because we were heading to Paris,” Green recalls.
The Paris convention turned out to be pivotal for the two entrepreneurs. “When Nancey and I were in Paris, I realized there were no African-American designers, we really stood out,” Green says with a laugh. “But this made us see what an opportunity we had to become a presence in the industry.”
Harris added, “The good thing was that when we went to Paris we were able to meet with 20 possible manufacturers for Vontélle. We narrowed it down to 5, then to 2, and we went with one who could not only deliver the product design but also on time.”
“If we hadn’t done that trip we wouldn’t be here,” notes Green.
They named the brand after Green’s middle name. Vontélle translated from French means “there she goes,” or “you go.”
Once they were set to go, they were all in. They used their own money to fund the venture. “I put my notice in at my job — I realized this was what I wanted to do,” remembers Green. “I am putting 100 percent into this.”
Not to say there weren’t obstacles. Green found out in the middle of the launch that she had diabetes. Then there was the pandemic. And, they both say, the slowdown due to the pandemic, helped them get the venture organized and ready for debut.
Vontélle has also partnered with WIN (Women in Need) in New York, which operates 11 shelters, to provide proceeds and eyewear to women and families in need.