Juneteenth weekend proved to be a perfect fashion match made in Harlem. Harlem Haberdashery and Vontélle Eyewear launched their collaborative frames during the Black holiday weekend online and at their 245 Malcom X Blvd. boutique. The two brands, who met at a Chase Entrepreneurship Program, complement each other well in sophisticated fashion, making this collaboration exist with ease. Their meeting was destined, as Harlem Haberdashery was looking into selling eyewear with a Black brand right after Vontélle became established.
A Black eyewear creator was needed for some Black folks and others whose faces didn’t fit European brands. According to Sharene Woods, president and CEO of Harlem Haberdashery, Juneteenth weekend seemed to be the best time to start this alliance in support of collective Black economics. “I always said that collaborating with like-minded, like-hearted entrepreneurs is what I wanted to do,” said Woods. said Woods. After evolving from a retail store into a lifestyle brand, in its 11th year of business, glasses were the next step.
Vontélle Eyewear had the experience Woods and her husband Guy, owner of Harlem Haberdashery, were seeking. Vontélle Eyewear and Harlem Haberdashery created three styles with two color waves for each. They offer six chic variations such as aviators with vibrant colors like pink tortoise, “Sugar Hill” red and “Lenox Avenue” green. Sharene Woods highly believes this first collection perfectly reflects both companies’ capabilities. “I loved everything about their design,” said Woods. “They had attention to details that we loved.” Vontélle’s commitment to details and excellent products drew Harlem Haberdashery into wanting to work with them for this joint effort.
The two businesses harmonized impeccably, down to Sharene Wood and Nancey Harris referring to themselves as “serial entrepreneurs.” Harris and Tracy Vontélle Green are the founders of Vontélle Eyewear. Both attended Morgan State University together and have been friends since. The idea of an eyewear line came from them both losing glasses and struggling to find new, appealing pairs. Harris told Green they can “do this,” meaning they could start their own collection of eyewear that suits them better.
Harris booked a trip for the duo to attend Paris Fashion Week for eyewear in 2019. “Four football fields size, like a Jacob Javitz, of eyewear [brands] and there was nobody there that looked like us who owned and created eyewear,” said Green. “That’s why glasses [at times] don’t fit our faces.” Green recalls African optometrists being at the show to buy glasses, yet not seeing any Black Americans who owned an eyewear brand.
Harris, who is business savvy, swiftly realized her and Green could capitalize on being a Black-owned shades company. “When we did our research and we saw that other people were not already doing this and we saw that there was a market for it,” said Harris. When visiting the French eyewear fashion show with 37,000 attendants, Harris recalls seeing only 10 people of color there. Harris and Green understand everyone needs glasses at some point in life, whether prescribed or for style. Because of this, they pursued Vontélle to make more comfortable eyewear.
“Harlem Haberdashery are already the gurus of what they do,” said Green. “Sha[rene] and Guy are both so stylish; we said to them, ‘let’s do what you do on eyewear.’” Green was honored that Sharene Woods specifically wanted to work with another Black woman-owned company. “We always say the African American dollar doesn’t stay inside [the community] so now we’re keeping that dollar in,” said Woods.
Louis Johnson Jr., style and trend specialist alongside Woods, said they all decided which six frames would serve as the lead for this launch. “We really designed from the aesthetic of us [as Black people] but then we keep in mind how our clients are going to be,” said Johnson. He expressed learning a significant amount of knowledge on eyeglasses through this process. “[Woods] really has a strict understanding of details––when this came out, it was fate.”
The goal was to create fashionable frames that accommodate the glasses arms to fit comfortably. Harlem Haberdashery planned for a June release, timely at the start of summer. The initials “HH” and “V” are printed on the eyewear’s arms to correctly represent both brands. The six frames will not be restocked when they sell out. “They are limited,” said Johnson.
Guy Wood said adding a glasses brand was a natural progression to Harlem Haberdashery. “I wear glasses, I support other glass lines,” he said. Guy said he hasn’t seen frames as stylish as the ones they now have. He credits Green and Harris for educating him on the various arm lengths of eyewear.
“We’re going to design more colors and more styles [that are] comfortable and unisex,” said Wood. He admits this collaboration has great synergy, especially because Green and Harris are Black women and how well they connected with his wife Sharene. They all share the same goal: always produce quality products. Their vision is seen through lenses beyond eyes. Harlem Haberdashery will continue building their lifestyle brand and will be expanding more eyewear collection with Vontélle Eyewear. For more information, visit https://www.harlemhaberdashery.com/ and https://www.vontelle.com/