Edgy and popular SEE Eyewear has officially launched its Canadian expansion with its first standalone store, located in Toronto. SEE has set its sights on potentially more Canadian boutiques, as it carefully expands its operations by opening locations where it sees synergies.
SEE, which stands for ‘Selected Eyewear Elements’, was founded in 1997 by optical pioneer Richard Golden, with an aim to provide consumers with affordably priced, fashion-forward eyewear. The company’s prices encourage shoppers to create a ‘wardrobe’ of glasses, with a wide variety of styles available. In the Toronto stores, SEE’s collection ranges from $199 to $599 for eyeglasses and include single vision plastic or polycarbonate lenses, and all sunglasses are priced at a reasonable $149 per pair.
According to Mr. Golden, SEE is considered to be the first optical retailer to have created its own brand, and prices are kept reasonable by selling in-house designs directly to consumers. SEE has an in-house design team, and it also works with artisans from 17 countries worldwide (mostly from Europe) to constantly produce new styles. SEE produces a limited number of each frame, sometimes only two per colour for each city or store. “It really is the closest thing to custom eyewear made just for you,” said Mr. Golden. “It is ideal for people who want a unique look that no one else will have and we think that will really resonate with the Toronto clientele.”
SEE Eyewear’s first Canadian store opened this fall at 153 Cumberland Street in Toronto’s Yorkville area. The 812 square foot boutique was created by carving out space from adjacent fashion retailer Nicholas. CBRE Downtown Toronto’s Arlin Markowitz and Alex Edmison acted on behalf of both the landlord and tenant in the Cumberland Street lease deal.
The Toronto boutique is SEE’s 41st boutique location — SEE has 40 stores in the United States in various major centres. It took years to find the right space for SEE’s first Canadian store, according to Mr. Golden. “I was looking for a location like Soho in New York City,” explained Mr. Golden, and he knew that Toronto’s Yorkville, which features a range of retailers in a unique village-like setting, was the right place to open the store.
“Toronto has been on my ‘must have’ list for years, we just needed to find a location that meets our stringent store selection criteria,” said Mr. Golden. “We love settings with a great cross section of style savvy pedestrians and good co-tenancy in the area. Yorkville has a vibrant neighborhood vibe that we love. It is the most ideal area SEE could ever choose for its flagship Canadian store. After numerous trips to view potential sites for SEE, the second I saw the Cumberland location I said yes on the spot. We look forward to adding more locations throughout the city as well as other great Canadian towns from which many of their residents are longtime SEE lovers in our locations outside of Canada. We are incredibly excited to have finally found our home in Yorkville.”
Toronto’s Queen Street West could be the next target for SEE Eyewear, according to Mr. Golden. And while he prefers urban street-front locations, he said that a third Toronto store could end up locating in one of the GTA’s major malls, which are world-class.
“I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about opening a new SEE store,” said Mr. Golden. “My love of Canada—and Toronto in particular—began in my youth at Camp Tamakwa in Algonquin Park with the lifelong friends I made there who hailed from the city. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time visiting them over the years, and developing new friendships with other Toronto natives.”
Mr. Golden explained that SEE is opening stores carefully, with only a handful opening every year. As such, its Canadian expansion will be careful, and will be dependent on finding the right real estate. He said that he ideally wants spaces with storefronts that can be branded and customized, as with the facade of the new Cumberland Street store in Toronto.
Targeted Canadian cities for SEE include Montreal and Vancouver, which could both see more than one location open, depending on if the right space can be acquired. Other cities could follow as the brand gains traction among Canadian consumers. In an increasingly crowded eyewear market in Canada, SEE stands out for its bold designs, unique business model, limited product run, and overall high quality with its frames being made in the same factories as some of the world’s most popular and priciest glasses brands.
**Photos were provided by SEE Eyewear