Finding Asian fit eyewear often feels akin to a miracle. In a strange way, it’s comforting to know that most, if not all, Asians and Asian Americans collectively share the same experience when it comes to shopping, trying on, and wearing specs and sunglasses: that they rarely work for our face shapes. I’ve had glasses that slide so much, I would have to hold them up if I made any movement. I’ve had frames that would straight up fall off my face at a simple, downturn glance. I’ve had sunglasses that gave me a headache if I wore them for longer than a couple of hours. And I just accepted it.
“You’ve been wearing frames that simply were not made for your face shape, and that’s why they’re not fitting,” says Ashley Johnson, the founder of inclusive eyewear brand Mohala. As someone of mixed race and Asian decent, she is all too familiar with the struggle to find shades that stay put. “We have all been using products that weren’t designed for us, but now, products are coming out that work for people who were historically left out.”
Ahead, I’ve gathered three brands that are doing just that: changing the eyewear landscape by taking a more inclusive approach to fit and design.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Ashley Johnson grew up amassing a collection of sunglasses — an accessory as essential in her home state as sunscreen. So, when it came to launching a business, sun-protective eyewear felt like a natural place to start. But she soon discovered most major players in the space — Warby Parker, Ray-Ban, Maui Jim — were not only founded by men, but they were all extremely masculine in feel, and catered to a very specific face type: slender, Caucasian, with a high nose bridge. And after one Asian woman after another lamented to her about the lack of eyewear options in the U.S. that fit correctly, often resorting to them buying frames in Asia, Johnson knew she had to do something about it.
She worked with an eyewear designer and together, they traveled to Asia to understand how different brands were designing frames for different bridges, cheek bone structures, and face shapes. It led her to what would go on to become the blueprint of her inclusive brand Mohala Eyewear, featuring three nose-pad sizes: Traditional Nose Bridge (the U.S. standard), Universal Nose Bridge (which has 60% more grip than the U.S. standard), and Special Low Nose Bridge (100% more grip) — the latter of which solves the common gripes, like frames sliding off, resting on cheeks, or hitting the lashes, that affect most Asians, whose face structure is often wider in shape, with higher cheekbones and a lower nose bridge.
“No other brand has this much grip, and it’s become our best-seller,” says Johnson, referring to the Special Low Nose Bridge fit. “What I found during this whole process is that it’s not just Asians — so many BIPOC also have lower nose bridges and high cheekbones, and also curvy women who have wider face shapes and fuller cheeks. Basically, eyewear is not one-size-fits-all even though that’s how it’s sold. In America, we have so many different ethnicities with different face shapes, so we need different fits.”
Unlike other eyewear brands that only offer a handful of styles designed with a lower nose bridge in mind, an aesthetic-meets-function, fit-first design is a core tenet of Mohala Eyewear (Johnson says 90 percent of its styles come in Universal or Special fits, with the goal to to expand its top-selling frames to be available in all three fits). She likens her inclusive approach toward eyewear to Fenty Beauty’s 50-foundation shade range or Third Love’s bras for all skin tones or Nike’s plus-size mannequins. “I think it’s taken so long for there to be more eyewear options because the heads of eyewear companies are not Asian or BIPOC,” Johnson says. “I know the feeling of being left out of product design, and so I’m hoping to achieve inclusivity.”
Since launching in 2017, Mohala Eyewear is the 32nd most popular eyewear brand in the nation (out of 100-plus brands) at Nordstrom, which is quite impressive since its styles are only available for purchase online and at one brick-and-mortar location. Another indicator that Johnson’s onto something: A repeat customer purchased 21 pairs in the span of less than a year. Every frame is constructed with the same high-quality materials found in luxury eyewear (Mazzucchelli acetate and Carl Zeiss lenses, to be precise), and for every pair that’s sold, Mohala Eyewear donates the cost of one week of school to Room to Read, a non-profit for children’s literacy and girls’ education.
“I believe the future of eyewear is that the same way you get asked, ‘What's your shoe size?’ or ‘What's your dress size?’ it’ll be, ‘What’s your nose bridge size?,’” says Johnson, who plans to launch opticals in June, starting with two frames. “I want Mohala to change the standard of beauty and encourage all brands to be inclusive.”
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It all started with a pair of Ray-Ban wayfarers. Athina Wang desperately wanted the coveted style in high school — but when she finally got her hands on them, they didn’t fit. “I was like, ‘OK, this is just how it is.’ I didn’t realize how poorly they fit my face,” she recalls. “Back then, I just wanted to be cool and wear what everyone else was wearing — I didn’t think that my face was so different from everyone else’s.”
She recounted that memory to her co-founder Florence Shin — they’ve been friends since 2006, their junior year of high school — when they were sitting out on a climbing/bouldering excursion, commiserating over the lack of eyewear options for Asians and Asian Americans. Then and there, they decided to go into business together, using Shin’s background in fashion marketing and PR and Wang’s fashion design knowledge. They first kicked off Covry with Kickstarter to drum up interest and capital before officially launching in 2015.
Figuring out the fit was the biggest learning curve. Wang did away with standard eyewear measurements most eyewear brands rely on (and from which are based on non-Asian faces), redrawing dimensions that would solve pain points and tweaking from there. She asked questions, like, How do we set frames off the face, so they don’t sit on the cheeks?; How do we prevent them from sliding?; How do we make sure they don’t pinch the temples? She lengthened the nose pads, made the bridge narrower, widened the frame, and adjusted the curvature of the frames. And then she and Shin tested them out on friends and family.
“One of the moments we knew we got it was when we had a pop-up and all our friends were trying on glasses and their reaction was: ‘Oh wow — these make a difference,’” Wang remembers. “Fit is our main focus. We want to be the company where you don’t have to worry about the fit. You can just find your style and you know everything will fit, instead of trying on 100 frames and being stuck with only one that feels okay.”
Wang describes Covry’s eyewear styles as simple and classic — some have even been the result of consumer feedback. In fact, the Vega Walnut style was a customer suggestion, and it’s the number-one best-seller for the last five years. And speaking of their consumers, Wang says they’ll write paragraphs about how much Covry has changed their lives.
“I’m most proud of being able to make a product that people genuinely love. One woman wrote that she started crying because everything in the home try-on fit so well, and she said: ‘I’m so glad there’s a company that’s made by Asians for Asian people,’” remembers Wang (though she wants to be clear: Covry isn’t just for Asians — many of their consumers are not). “I think for a long time, Asian people didn’t realize they needed this, but over the past year, there’s more awareness in the AAPI community, and people realize, ‘Why should I have to sacrifice my comfort because there’s nothing on the market for me?’ We deserve something that’s made for us.”
Alexandra Peng Charton had been designing eyewear for luxury European eyewear brands for 15 years when, one day, a friend tried on one of her prototypes and said, “I think I need plastic surgery — I don’t have a nose.” And that’s when it hit her: Her eyewear designs didn’t work for Asians.
“I realized how an ill-fitting product not made for features that aren’t European could actually have a psychological impact — to the point that such a beautiful Asian woman thinks that she needs plastic surgery so these glasses fit her,” she says. “I realized that I better do it, for all my Asian American friends and family, for all consumers like myself. The optical industry has always been very Eurocentric, and it takes an Asian person to really study different Asian faces.
She spent two years unlearning everything she knew about eyewear design and started from scratch. She had to consider which colors complemented olive complexions, the fact that most Asians have stronger prescriptions (which meant figuring out designs that can withstand heavier lenses), and also the diversity of face shapes within the Asian community. “We have wider heads, and obviously, there are very petite Asians as well,” she continues. “We come in all sizes, so we have different fitting needs.”
Peng Charton launched TC Charton in 2009 with multiple collections that cater to specific needs and fits, like ones for those with a higher prescription, or those with a very low and narrow nose bridge, or those with a wilder and lower bridge, or those with extra-long temples — extra-short temples.
“Optical glasses are actually a medical device — they must fit you well in order to do what they’re supposed to do, which is correct your vision. Nobody should accept compromises,” says Peng Charton, who always begins a design with a very specific face in mind, versus tacking on a higher bridge on an existing style. “When you’re wearing glasses, you should be able to forget you have them on for the rest of the day. We shouldn’t be constantly worrying about them sliding, or sitting on our cheeks, or smudging our makeup, or moving when we smile.”
At the beginning, TC Charton very much catered almost exclusively to an Asian demographic, but Peng Charton has since changed her brand’s messaging to a more inclusive one, especially after receiving inquiries from people of other races and ethnicities. “We’re learning that whether you have a narrow bridge or a low one, it’s a characteristic found in every culture, every race,” she says. “I realize I’m designing not just for myself, but for millions of different faces, and so my hope is I can give people more choices — designs that are beautiful, comfortable, and functional.”