KESTAN Community is a series where our creative director, Stephanie, sits down with inspirational women to talk about careers, motivation, and how they're making it.
Jess and Laura Van Brunt of Van Brunt Optical Haus are offering more than just eyewear to Southern Californians. They’ve combined 35 years of experience to supply individuals with not only a curation of work from unique designers, but incredible technical prowess as well. Their personal service allows people to leave with a pair of glasses that are uniquely theirs.
We immediately became smitten with our neighbors at The OC Mix, and were taken by their incredible taste, light heartedness, and support of independent labels. We sat down with Jess and Laura over doughnuts to get a peek into the exceptional world of optics.
Names: Jess & Laura Van Brunt
Occupations: Owner and Optician
You both work in a niche field. What made you fall in love with optics and decide to pursue it as a career?
Jess: I love helping people feel good about themselves, and opening their eyes to something they wouldn’t necessarily wear. We’ll consider things like if they work in a creative or conservative field, and whether or not they’ve worn glasses before. I can help them by opening up new possibilities. Plus, we’re helping people see! That’s really important too!
Laura: I also enjoy supporting independent brands. For me personally, I’ve always loved the design of eyewear, and the story behind it. We curate high quality products as well. For example, a lot of our glasses use handmade materials from places like Japan, Austria, and Italy.
Jess: There’s just so much uniqueness. Even with our customers.
Laura: Yes! We’re all designed differently, and we never know who is going to come into the shop. Everybody has their own style, and glasses are really a reflection of that. We just like offering great optics.
How do you meet the individual needs of your clients?
Jess: We get different kinds of people walking through our doors, and sometimes their prescriptions are crazy! We’ll hold their hand, and walk them through the process to help them feel normal and understand that they’ll be okay. The point of optics is dual - it’s functional like a medical device, but also an accessory and super personal. This is where two industries like fashion and medical come together. And that’s what we do. Laura is good at finding the right design, and I’m more of the technical nerd.
Laura: She’s the master frame adjuster. She can take a frame that’s been demolished and basically put it back together.
Jess: I’ve fixed frames that have been run over by a car. I like it. It’s nerdy, but I like it.
Laura: Opticians really are magicians.
What is something that maybe about the industry that the general consumer doesn’t know?
Laura: Most eyewear brands are actually owned by one large corporation.
Jess: People think that each brand makes their own glasses.
Laura: And you pay hundreds of dollars for the name. For us, we’re not about logo or bling. It’s about the story behind a brand, the design, and the materials used. Every brand we carry is so different and unique.
So, what’s the best thing about owning your own small business?
Laura: Doing it the way we want to do it, and doing it the right way. For example, we’re really particular about the lab that we use, because we do a lot of custom work. With other labs, you don’t have access to as many options. We can offer more lens types, materials, designs, coatings, etc. If you want a certain lens design or material, we can get it to you.
Jess: If we were artists, it’s like having access to all of the colors.
Owning a small business can be tough though. What are some struggles that you guys have to overcome?
Jess: Marketing is very difficult for a small business. We know glasses like the back of our hands. We can talk about glasses, prescriptions, or eyeballs all day. But when it comes to how to promote ourselves, it’s difficult. There’s a real learning curve.
On a lighter note, how about a favorite treat at The OC Mix then?
Jess: The patisserie…
Laura: Chocolate. Almond. Croissant.
Jess: We’ll have one every Sunday!
Back to optics - do you have any advice for someone looking for a new frame, or perhaps delving into the realm of higher quality eyewear?
Jess: Come see us! There’s just so much that you don’t know, until you know.
Laura: With what we do, we spend personal time engaging with everyone. We’ll share our story, find out their needs, explore the brands we carry, and see what we have to offer. We’ll get to know your prescription and your overall style as well. It’s a process, and we’ll spend the time with you.
Jess: Sometimes people will come in and ask us what glasses fit their face shape best. But there’s so much more to it than that. What’s your prescription? What do you do for a living? What’s your style?
Laura: There’s no rule of thumb.
People have been wearing glasses for ages. Where do you see the future of the industry?
Jess: Whenever we catch up with one of our really good clients, he’ll talk to us about design and what he’s up to. What’s he’s been talking about for the last couple of years is 3D printing. We’ve heard some things about 3D printing glasses and frames. Although I feel like it’s not quite there yet, I think it would be cool to see.
Laura: Although people think that retail is dying, we feel it’s the opposite. Buying eyewear is very personal and requires an experience. It’s very hands on.
Running your own business can be time consuming. Do you guys do anything for fun?
Jess: Fun? What’s that?
Laura: I personally like to go to museums whenever I can break away. I enjoy architecture, reading, etc.
Jess: Oh, and we like to walk!
Laura: We live by the beach, so it’s nice to get out and take long walks.
Jess: We’ll look at the architecture. Since we live in Long Beach, there’s so many cool buildings with an art deco flair and whatnot.
Laura: We have been missing travel though. When you have your own business and you’re the owner operator, your work kind of becomes your life. I can’t wait until we can get to a point where we can start traveling. Travel is so important!
In that case, if money or time wasn’t an issue? Where would you go?
Laura: Barcelona, France, or Japan. I haven’t heard a negative thing about Barcelona!
The coffeeshop begins to fill with patrons starting their day. We wind down the conversation with laughter, shared experiences of running our own businesses, and an extra doughnut or two. We’re inspired by Jess and Laura in seeing how they marry the beauty of modern eyewear design and technical craft steeped in history. You can definitely find truly exceptional optics in the good and talented hands of Jess and Laura of Van Brunt Optical Haus.