Dennis G. Zelazowski knew there had to be a better way.
An entrepreneur from a family of optometrists, he was tired of seeing shoddy, clip-on shades for glasses -- either big goofy Dwayne Wayne-style flip-up clips, or slightly slicker magnetic frames that didn't always match the curvature of the lenses themselves.
So he designed a clip-on design of his own.
"Chemistrie is a magnetic frame that's compatible with any frame on the market," he says. Zelazowski holds a patent on the frames, and makes and sells them through Eyenovate, his Strip District-based company (www.eyenovate.com).
In Zelazowski's design, the shades attach by use of 2-mm magnets attached to both the lens and the shade. Located in a blind spot where they are almost impossible to notice, the magnets are specially ridged to help hold the shades fast.
The magnet "can never come out," Zelazowski says, and the bond is strong enough that your shades won't fly off your face, no matter what you get into.
Zelazowski, 30, himself isn't a doctor of optometry, but he's always been around the family business, from watching his grandfather grind lenses in his basement to helping sell frames at his father's practice. His work in the business has led to other innovations as well -- one of his first big successes was patient-management software. The software was a hit, he says, but not very exciting to sell, since it wasn't tangible.
That got him thinking about clips for shades. Cheaper sets sometimes scratched expensive lenses. In other cases, the gap between the shade and the lens created a glare problem. "Customers would come in, they'd have Dior frames, Calvin Klein, and they couldn't get the clip," Zelazowski says. For lots of bespectacled style mavens, the solution has been to shell out another several hundred dollars on a second pair of prescription sunglasses.
"I could really improve this product," Zelazowski recalls thinking.
Consumers can choose from 10 different lens colors, or pick a customizable mirrored lens. Zelazowski enthuses about the demo method he stumbled upon for the different colors: It's a Viewmaster -- the old kids' toy -- with each frame offering up tiny swatches of a different shade color. Each tints your outlook a bit, but not outrageously. The mirrored shades don't color your world at all.
Though the magnets are meant to be unobtrusive, they're customizable: available as squares or circles, in gold, silver or gunmetal. And, in perhaps the clearest indication that glasses have become one more place to express your style, Chemistrie has the option of adding Swarovski crystals on the magnets, in 12 jewel tones that can be switched out. Lest your shades get scratched inside a purse or pocket, they come with a slick little scimitar of a case that's slim and self-closing.
Zelazowski's own rectangular frames recall tortoise shell, with thick temple pieces that reveal the metal skeleton ahead of his ear. His magnets are gold, to complement the gold in the frames. Chemistrie frames cost about $125 -- less than many designer frames.
At first, Zelazowski was making each piece by hand, working alone and after-hours in the back of his father's office, with the phone off and the music up, and a captive test audience.
"I began manufacturing these for my dad's patients," he says. "The response was great." So he took his innovation to optometry trade shows, and picked up about 75 doctors who wanted Chemistrie for their patients. Patients at other practices heard about the slick clips, and wanted them. Doctors would have to send glasses to Zelazowski, which would add about a week of waiting for patients. Then local vision powerhouse Eyetique referred him to optometry labs, which handle production for up to a thousand or more doctors each. That's when things really took off.
Soon enough, he hired a staff and moved into the Strip District location, which has a small lab of its own. Now, the company teaches optometry labs how to manufacture the Chemistrie system on their own. And the company is partnering with the manufacturers of precision lens-grinding machinery: Zelazowski wants to have the highly specialized machines to be able to incorporate Chemistrie as a design option, lessening the margin for human error.
Of course, there's one drawback to selling a shade: "I can't sell it on its own, it only looks as good as the frame," Zelazowski says. And in fact when he showed demo models, people would want to buy the entire piece he was showing, frame and all. Taking the hint, he acquired two frame lines: The company has North American distribution rights to X-optix from Belgium and Lumiere from New York.
Any set of glasses can be fitted with Chemistrie, and the upgrade can be purchased directly from doctors across the country. Locally, it's available at Eyetique, Giant Eagle, SUGAR and HeidiOptics. You can have your existing frames retrofitted, but you'll be without them for a week or more, so you'll need a backup pair.
Next up, the company will begin heavy promotion of its clip-on reading glasses, so there's no need for extra spectacle shuffle. And Zelazowski is developing a completely magnetic frame -- one that will eliminate all the screws that fall out and constantly need adjusting in traditional glasses.