Valley Eyewear seems to be the future of fashionable frames, and behind this booming brand, are a married Gold Coast couple, raising their 4 and 2 year old children, Dash and Seylah.
These handmade, high-end frames, have found international stardom on the likes of fashion savvy celebrities walking the streets of Paris and New York.
This story starts in an almost fairytale manner. Michael was made redundant from his position with an Australian surf label. His wife Tenielle’s redundancy came 8 months later. On their kitchen bench, armed with a lead pencil and ruler, Michael drafted his first pair of Valley sunglasses.
Just months later Tenielle was negotiating sales as she was wheeled into a hospital ward to give birth.
Lunch with Liz caught up with Tenielle at popular Gold Coast restaurant, Fishhouse, ahead of Valley’s launch of its new custom prescription optical range.
WHERE WE WENT: Fishhouse, Burleigh Heads.
WHAT WE ATE: Whole baby Calamari, char grilled w Lemon & Oregano (SA) $26, King George Whiting (elegant) Port Lincoln (SA) 300g deboned – char grilled or braised $56, Patagonia Toothfish (rich) Heard Island caramelized $56
WHAT WE SIPPED: Rui Nart Blanc de Blancs $30 per glass, $175 bottle
WHAT TENIELLE WORE: Bassike top, One Teaspoon leather pants, Shoes: Annie Bing.
WHAT LIZ WORE: Bec & Bridge, Australianflavour.com.au Shoes: Tony Bianco
Tell me a bit about your business, how did you come up with the idea of Valley Eyewear and bring the concept to reality?
“The idea of Valley was totally Michael. He has always been a lover of sunglasses and he was getting frustrated that he couldn’t find what he wanted in eyewear, which was something a little more creative, edgy and unique. When we were both made redundant, Michael sat down in the kitchen with a pencil, ruler and measuring tool, and drew a pair of sunglasses. He then pitched me his business idea, and to be honest that’s how these sunglasses are still drawn today! Although now in an office space not the kitchen, but they’re still hand drawn from Michael’s thought space!
Bringing the concept to reality – Michael had a love for Zeiss optics, one of the highest regarded optical lenses in the world. He knew he wanted these, and knowing he wanted them to remain handmade, we found a factory, investing both our redundancy packages into this dream. It was make or break. Michael was offered a marketing job during this time, and it would have been really easy to take the security of a salary with me pregnant, but we took a chance and had a go.
Can you tell me about the very first pair of Valley glasses and do you still have them?
“Yes we do! I think they’re terrible! The factory misinterpreted the design and they just came out wrong! But we have kept our sample and prototypes of the whole range. We’re sentimental like that. They’re all boxed up with their drawings.”
Was the business an instant success?
“To a degree you could say that yes, but at the same time we were working all day and all night. We fought for the retailers we wanted to be partnered with. The growth in the past two years has been the quickest!”.
Do you and Michael think of yourselves as an entrepreneurial couple?
“No, to be honest not at all! We met in high school at Palm Beach Currumbin High, we’ve been together nineteen years, married eleven! We were only just saying this the other night, we have not changed at all as people! We still have the same friends, we still spend our weekends at the beach, still live at Palm Beach. It is nice to think people might think of us like that, but no, absolutely not!”
How do you make marriage and raising a young family work, while running such a company?
“We’ve been together since we were 16 and have worked together for the same companies since we left school! We are together day and night and it’s all about communication, honesty and balance. We are still both our own individual people and I think the reason it’s worked is because we support each other. His strengths are my weaknesses and vis versa. I think that’s why it’s been a nice partnership in the business as well. He does all the designing and marketing and I do the sales, showings and accounting.”
Was there a particular milestone or moment when you released Valley Eyewear was thriving?
“Yes when we started to see a lot of international personalities wearing the brand. Gwen Stefani started wearing them and then we had a lot of major international retailers contacting us and that’s when we thought ok, this is something”.
Some of the most well-known names in the world are wearing your product, Kanye West, Chris Hemsworth, Katie Holmes, Debra Messing, Kat Von D, Marilyn Manson, Delta Goodrem, Gigi Hadid, to name a few – How does this make you feel and has there ever been anyone that has stopped you in your tracks?
“We are so grateful for that, particularly because they’re wearing them on their own accord. We have never paid anyone to wear our product, we didn’t send them free glasses, they’ve brought them because they like them. We have sent a few pairs as gifts when we have seen personalities wearing them, as a thank you. Kat Von D emailed us, Margot Robbie was another one who contacted us and it’s been so nice to see they appreciate and love what we do. It’s been interesting finding out how some of them have got our product, for example Katie Holmes when we saw paparazzi shots wearing valley we had no idea how she got them, we contacted her and found out she’d gone into a store and brought them. Which is incredible when you think these people get free product given to them all the time.”
As a successful businesswoman, what is your advice for someone starting out?
“You have to be ready to work hard, there’s definitely no 9 – 5pm, or Monday to Friday. I still work through the night now.”
Where are you heading and looking towards with the company?
“At the moment the biggest business platform we are concentrating on is distribution. It’s really exciting to be able to see the brand becoming accessible to people in other countries and we are just about to launch Valley Optical, a separate line for custom prescriptions that will run parallel to Valley eyewear.
What would your perfect day be like?
“Hang on what would a day off be like? Definitely a swim at the beach. Seafood, glass of wine, friends and family.”
Kara’s question…What’s your favourite cup of tea? Type of Tea? You know being a mum on the run? A skinny Cap.