Mike Christiansen, owner of Venus Eye Boutique and designer of all the glasses it sells, in Edmonton, Alberta, on May 25, 2010. (Photograph by: Candace Elliott, The Edmonton Journal)
When Mike Christiansen finished high school, he planned to design buildings, not eyeglasses. But his path to architecture school was diverted by a summer job selling frames to optometry shops.
Customers would ask if he had petite frames, or large frames, or more colourful frames for sale.
“I would take these questions back to my head office and say, ‘This is what people are asking for, this is what we need.’ And they’d say, ‘No, no, that’s not going to sell.’ ”
So Christiansen decided to design them himself. He made different bridge sizes and temple designs and used bright colours. He designed six different models, then found a factory in Japan that would produce them.
Eight years later, the 39-year-old designs and sells 350 different models of frames in a range of colours; about 1,800 different glasses in total which are sold in 2,000 locations across Canada, as well as in Europe, Australia, and, most recently, South America. Two-and-a-half years ago, again, in response to customer demand, he opened his own funky retail shop in Edmonton’s deep south — Venus Eye Boutique (11161 Ellerslie Road) — selling exclusively his own creations. Drawing on his love of architecture, Christiansen also designed the store itself, from start to finish, as well as every product sold in it.
“It’s interesting how life takes you and one thing leads to another and you end up going down this path that you never thought you would,” he says.
Having come up with the brand, designed the product, overseen its manufacture, opened his own retail shop and done all the marketing, he’s essentially “created a label from nothing, which is pretty exciting for me,” he adds.
In his travels, he regularly sees people wearing his frames in Toronto, Las Vegas and even on a trip to Disneyland with his kids. But he no longer tries to tell the wearers that he designed their glasses. “I used to say that a couple of years ago, and everybody used to think I was the biggest crazy-man on the planet,” he laughs. “They’d be going, ‘Uh, yeah; right buddy.’ Now I just usually compliment them on their glasses.”
Unlike many big manufacturers, who often choose their frames from an inventory of factory models and just stamp their own names on them, Christiansen has designed each frame himself in response to what customers have told him they want. At his Venus retail shop, people can even mix and match pieces from different frames, essentially creating their own design. Or they can choose from his “unique” wall of one-of-a-kind prototypes that never went to production.
“We’re sitting down, listening to what they want, specifically, and we can custom fit exactly what they want. There’s no other optical in the world that would do that for you,” he adds. “They would just laugh at you.”
His frames range in price from about $130 up to $380, depending on the materials used to make them.
Some of his frames have cut-outs at the temple, giving people the look of the thicker frames they like, but increasing the peripheral vision those wide arms tend to block. His “QT-Pie” series is aimed at petite women and kids — essentially just smaller versions of his stylish adult models. And his frames come in a kaleidoscope of colours.
“qt-pie” Eyewear by Venus
“As soon as a person comes into our boutique, I know exactly what frame should fit their face structure, for what reason, too,” says Christiansen. “Because I personally design the frame, I know what specific person that frame should be on.”
Christiansen himself owns about 50 pairs of glasses, a fact that would be unsurprising, except that he doesn’t need corrective lenses. “I have such perfect vision that it’s actually obscene,” he jokes. “I just wear ’em for fashion.”
Originally from Camrose, Christiansen moved to Edmonton after high school and has no plans to relocate, even though people often wonder why his growing business is based here. “Our family is all around Edmonton, we have roots here and we love the city,” he explains.
He spends a fair bit of time travelling, whether it’s to international trade shows or to optometry shops around the province.
“One week I’ll be in Red Deer and then two days later I can be in Milan and then four days after that I could be in Lloydminster. It’s really interesting.”
“That’s how I get my inspiration. Ever single day I’m out there, somebody says, ‘Oh, I wish they had this,’ ” says Christiansen. “Then I think, you’re exactly right, nobody’s doing that. That’s a great idea.”
by Marta Gold
The Edmonton Journal