Krewe Sunglasses Founder Talks About Using New Orleans as His Style Inspiration
Stirling Barrett's shades have guarded the eyes of celebrities like Beyonce, Kate Hudson, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez.
New Orleans' famous Jazz Festival is underway this week and those walking around the fairgrounds are sure to spot multiple festivalgoers donning Krewe du optic sunglasses. The eyewear company was founded in the Crescent City in August 2013 by New Orleans native Stirling Barrett.
Nearly three years later, Krewe sunglasses are already being worn by a number of celebrities including Beyonce, Gigi Hadid, Reese Witherspoon, Kendall Jenner and Elle and Dakota Fanning. At a recent annual sale, about 600 New Orleans customers lined up at 5:30 a.m., hours before the store opened, in order to snag a discounted pair.
The frame style that put the company on the map is the St. Louis one, which blends acetate and metal for a structural lens inspired by the wrought iron fences and balcony traditional to the architecture in New Orleans. The Conti is another popular frame, often spotted on Gigi Hadid, who owns at least seven pairs of Krewe sunglasses.
Stirling Barrett, 27, sat down with Pret-a-Reporter on the balcony above his flagship store in the French Quarter to chat about his growing company.
Pret-a-Reporter: How did your idea for this company begin?
Barrett: My background was in creative advertising and art. After college, I always knew I wanted to be bigger then local and I wanted to build something that changed the way people interacted [with] and thought about New Orleans. I really wanted to build a brand about that. [I saw] an opportunity for people [to use] New Orleans as a place and a culture to delineate who they were, what they wanted to be, and the story they wanted to tell.
At the time I was thinking about buying a house, I took [the money intended for] my down payment and ordered a couple thousand sunglasses.
I've definitely always had a passion for eyewear. My dad tells this story about me as a kid spending my allowance on eyewear. A couple of my cherished things as a child were vintage eyewear that were my dad or grandfather's. There's a passion in the family for independent eyewear.
Explain the name "Krewe" and why you name the specific sunglasses after local streets and locations.
Krewe in New Orleans culture is Mardi Gras krewes, a creative group that comes together to ride in a parade. Our whole goal is to celebrate individual style, that's why our product is not a branded product. "Krewe" really fit with that identity in the sense of [this] is a creative group coming together. We feel like the people that relate to our story are part of that creative group. If you have any kind of relation to New Orleans, you are instantly transported back by that five letter name.
Continually, the best frames we produce are inspired by locations, [like] the wrought iron [in the city's architecture] that's inspiring St. Louis. Ultimately we really draw inspiration from the city.
Which celebrity were you the most excited to see wearing your frames?
Our first celebrity was Beyonce. That was f—ing hot. I was at Austin City Limits and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were about to come on and I got that text. I really don't know how that one happened, that was an organic one. I think what was great about Beyonce is it happened when we were about a year-and-a-half old.
I honestly get just as excited when I see someone walking down the street wearing our product as when I see Gigi [Hadid] wearing our product. Well — that might be a little untrue, but you know what I mean. The most exciting thing is that we're creating a product that people are relating to and we are in a city called New Orleans. We are in a very small market, in some ways being a trend-setter for eyewear across the globe.
We are now in more than 250 stores across the globe. That's really exciting that us turning a culture into a brand from a place is resonating with people that literally travel around the world and look at fashion for a living.
Is there anyone you'd really like to see in your sunglasses?
I'd love to get Beyonce in more shades.
KREWE FOUNDER: Stirling Barrett (Photo: Olivier Alexander)
What's a trend in sunglasses that you're seeing?
Mirroreds are still there, which has been going on for 5 years. I'm moving more towards pastels and subtler mirroreds. We're starting to look at some lighter pinks and some purples. All of our lenses are custom, handmade.
I think that [mirrored lenses] will always be a trend. As a whole, metal and acetate is also very exciting.
Do you have any advice for aspiring designers and entrepreneurs, beyond the typical "follow your dream?"
Mine was never "follow your dream." Mine was always, "f—ing do it." The idea is the easy part, the work is the hard part. Those first couple of years, it's less about how much time you have to design and more about getting a company off the ground. That and think big.
Think about where you're going to go. We've always been a goal-driven company. Last year, we hit our monetary and growth goals and then we all went to Napa for a retreat. I think it's "do it and think big."
Krewe's all-acetate summer collection launches in May, followed by a fall/winter collection with an emphasis on mainly metal frames, which will be released by November. Prices range from $165-315.