11 October 2017

District Vision: finding the right distribution strategy

The eyewear brand has a super-niche product but it had to figure out where best to sell them.

The idea was simple enough: make glasses for people to run in. Normal sunglasses were too delicate or uncomfortable. Sporty sunglasses, meanwhile, were practical but invariably looked hideous.

District Vision was conceived to fill this void in 2015 by two founders, a Brit and a German who studied in London together before moving to New York.

At the time, co-founder Max Vallot recalls just a tiny group of potential customers: ‘a bunch of people [who met] at Brooklyn bridge once a week to run together’.

Sports meets fashion

But they found the streets around Manhattan and Brooklyn were increasingly being taken over by running clubs like the Bridge Runners, Orchard Street Runners and Black Roses NYC. In London, Run Dem Crew was growing while NBRO Running in Copenhagen and AM:PM.RC in Melbourne also saw their numbers swell.

Meanwhile, sports kits’ evolution into fashion was an industry phenomenon. But while ‘athleisure’ was finding a natural home in fashion retail, it wasn’t obvious where to sell District Vision’s stylish running glasses.

They had three completely different but equally valid types of retailer to consider: optician, fashion store, and sports outlet. ‘We literally approached our wishlist in each of those three categories,’ says Vallot.

Three types of shop

Fashion stores were quick to range the sporty frames, despite being an entirely new type of product for the likes of Dover Street Market, Barneys, and Lane Crawford.

Getting into other types of retailer proved more tricky. Optical stores were turned off by the fact the brand had only released one frame style. ‘If you want to have a serious eyewear brand, you need a collection of at least five frame styles,’ explains Vallot. ‘So that disqualified us from the optical arena.’

The sports shops, meanwhile, said the sunglasses were too expensive; District Vision’s first batch of frames came in at £229, significantly more than existing sports eyewear brands like Oakley, Endura and Rudy Project.

Responding to retail

District Vision’s founders took action to solve the problem. First, they upped the number of frames in the collection (there are now four styles in multiple colours) so spectacle shops would feel more comfortable stocking the brand’s range.

The price of the frames was also slashed by £75 by removing a superfluous (and expensive to make) sports band that appeared on the initial frames. ‘All of a sudden we could go into running stores and outdoor stores,’ says Vallot.

Brand appeal

Selling through all three types of retailer has had the additional benefit of making more people aware of the brand and, in many cases, getting people to subsequently buy directly from District Vision’s website (its biggest sales channel).

District Vision has begun exploring opportunities to collaborate with and make glasses for other brands, such as two of the most successful in straddling sports and fashion: Lululemon and Outdoor Voices.

Insight: Retailers notoriously get flummoxed by products that challenge assumptions on price and what customers want. Convincing them means taking a flexible approach.

First appeared in issue 19 Nov/Oct