Shades For Sunny Reading

Steve and Licia McDonald design reader sunglasses. Coco Zickos photos

By Licia McDonald
Co-owner of Hawaiian Lenses

Please tell us about your business. My husband, Steve, and I design a line of sunglasses that are unique in that they have a small reader lens built in on the inside that is barely noticeable. Our sunglasses are perfect for reading at the beach or even doing any work outside because you can get protection from the sun and still see close-up. There is a little magnifier lens, just like readers, but the big portion of the lenses is regular sunglasses. So you can look up and see the view, but if you need to see anything close-up, you don’t need to switch between different glasses, you just look down through the reader lens. We launched our business in June. We’re in 12 stores on Kaua’i and a couple of locations on the Mainland.

How did you come up with this idea? Steve has been in construction for years, and he used to struggle with switching between sunglasses and reading glasses on the job site to see his tape measure. He was ordering low-quality glasses online, and they weren’t very good and the lens was not positioned very well. Over time, friends asked to borrow his readers, and he began to see that it could be a business, and he designed a line and paid close attention to where the reader lens would sit. If it’s up too high, it interferes with your distance vision, so he really worked hard in designing a good-quality, affordable product. Steve realized that we could fill a niche. We didn’t invent the idea, but we think we made it better and more affordable.

Steve creates the stands to display Hawaiian Lenses sunglasses at retail stores around the islandc

What kind of clientele does your product attract? We recently realized we are a lifestyle product because people our age are doing business now with a cell phone in their hand and they can’t read their text. So we’re getting many calls from people who just want them to see their phones. So it’s moved from construction and reading at the beach to a lifestyle. We’re also really committed to focusing on the segment of the market that’s over 40. There are so many products out there for younger people, and usually what happens is some sunglass companies will have a pair of these, but they’re off to the side, down in a corner somewhere. So we thought, let’s put them up front – we know there’s a need there and let’s market them as a stand-alone item.

What was the most challenging aspect of having this idea come to fruition? Working with factories. It was about two years before we located a manufacturer. We visited manufacturers and had many prototypes designed where we looked for the best quality.

Why do you do what you do? I began to see there was a real need after watching Steve for a couple of years give prototypes to people and seeing them get really excited. I thought, wow, people really need these. And then I got excited about it, too, and ever since then we’ve been working together.

How do you come up with the designs? We work together and even our 14-year-old son Sam is involved. We ask friends and we get prototypes, and we even tape fragments of sunglasses together to figure out the size and shape. We worked hard, for example, on the polarized version that we have. We have a couple of styles that wrap to get extra protection from the sun, especially for people who live here who work on the water. It was basically Scotch tape and pieces of construction paper taped to other sunglasses to come up with the design, and then taking pictures and emailing them to the manufacturer and then them sending us prototypes.

One of the many styles of Hawaiian Lenses sunglasses. Photo courtesy Licia McDonald

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your business? When I’m in one of the retail stores and I hear somebody who’s trying them on and literally is just amazed by them.

What is the average cost of your product? All of our styles cost $19.50 except for the polarized, which cost more to make, and those retail at $38. What we found is markup is really high, similar to clothing, for most sunglasses. We’re hoping people will feel that they can buy a pair or two – have one in their beach bag, one in their car. We really wanted to keep the prices down.

Why do you create your own sunglass stands? Sunglass stands have looked the same forever – horrible plastic stands. Steve and Sam went out into the woodshop and just started building stands. We use bamboo because it’s something that grows and is repurposed here.

Do you offer customized lenses? Yes, we do offer customized lenses, so that if you do have a special need, we will make one lens different than the other. We offer them in three different powers, 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5.