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“I’ve always wanted to start an eyewear brand”

OT  spoke to Ahmed Ejaz, CEO of Cambridge Spectacle Co., about his journey in optometry and how this informs his spectacle designs

KY Cambridge

Cambridge Spectacle Co. arrived on the eyewear scene at the start of January 2021, led by an optometrist, with the ambition to become a globally-recognised British brand.

Ahmed Ejaz, CEO of Cambridge Spectacle Co. and an optometrist, co-founded the eyewear brand alongside his brother, realising a dream that he had held since his entry into the optometry profession in 2012.

With the brand set to be stocked with a multiple chain in the UK, and a visit earlier this year to Downing Street, Ejaz told OT about his journey into business ownership and the launch of Cambridge Spectacle Co.

Taking the leap

“I’ve always wanted to start an eyewear brand,” Ejaz explained. “But I never did it because you just don’t know where to start when you are young.”

It wasn’t until Ejaz became involved in politics, running for Parliament and working for the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, a former chief-executive of John Lewis Group, that the optometrist began to re-consider his design ambitions.

Ejaz said: “I remember thinking one day; I want to follow this dream that I have to start an eyewear brand and do things differently – to have an optometrist backing the brand, and to support eye health research.”

The disruption that COVID-19 brought to daily life also played a role in his decision. When locum work opportunities disappeared during lockdowns, Ejaz took time out of the profession to become an ambulance service employee, working for 111.

He found, on taking a brief residency role: “You had a lot of time to think because we weren’t seeing as many patients.”

“I just thought, ‘I have to give this a go. We have to be brave,’” he said, adding that: “We had a lot of time on our hands to start working, looking at frame design and speaking to manufacturers, speaking to suppliers and getting our plan together.”

“I didn’t expect how fast things would start to move.”

Less than a year after launching, the brand has been in discussions with optical groups interested in stocking Cambridge Spectacle Co. eyewear.

“I think it is testament to how we are doing things differently, and how excited we are,’ Ejaz said. “We’ve been really lucky that everybody we talk to believes in the brand.”

I didn’t expect how fast things would start to move

 

The idea for the brand came from a point of frustration for a patient who couldn’t find the kind of frames they wanted and didn’t want “expensive glasses with brand names.”

“I thought there was room for brands with expertise and style at a fair price,” Ejaz explained.

Almost a decade of experience as an optometrist has also given Ejaz insight into the pain-points that optical professionals face when it comes to spectacles, and he has incorporated this knowledge into the designs.

“I’ve seen frames myself that would come in and when I tried to heat them they would snap, so when we are designing, we are thinking like optometrists,” he said.

Supporting research

Eye health is a core value for Cambridge Spectacle Co. and the brand has selected St. Paul’s Research Foundation as its charity partner.

The drive behind the brand’s charitable partnership was two-fold. Ejaz explained: “We saw that funding would probably be affected by the pandemic. The Government was spending so much just to keep the economy going that we thought, if we can build a company that starts to commit profits towards these kinds of causes, it will help to alleviate the pressures on those charities.”

But the founders were also keen to support research in eye health.

“It is pretty obvious that, working as an optometrist, there are a lot of diseases you come across and you want to see research progress,” Ejaz said. “I think with some diseases there is a long way to go, and we wanted to be involved in that journey.”

When we are designing, we are thinking like optometrists

 

The opportunities of optometry

Earlier this year, Ejaz was invited to Downing Street to discuss social mobility, and his own journey into optometry.

“I grew up in a lower income family and I went to state school,” he shared. “I didn’t understand how I could go on to university and become an optometrist, yet some of my classmates might end up in jail. That was what I wanted to put to Downing Street. We talked about optometry as a career and the access you have to go to university and get this degree.”

“Optometry took me into a job that was secure, that was helping people, and that gave me the opportunity to do so much more – like become a CEO of an eyewear company.

“I think optometry is a great route into so much in life, not just to a great career, but in the skills it gives you. I was a shy kid, but when you talk to 12 to 18 patients a day, and meet so many different people, it really changes you,” Ejaz said.

He added: “I really wanted to get across that they should support optometry as much as possible.”