We chatted with Krewe's CEO Stirling Barrett about the eyewear company.
Krewe's headquarters in New Orleans is located in the city's Lower Garden District, which boasts streets lined with 19th-century mansions, small antique shops and a cafe here and there. Some of the houses still show signs of damage from Hurricane Katrina, while others have been visibly restored. The headquarters is down a side road, inside an unsuspecting industrial building painted all black. The patio offers a heated concrete pool, an outdoor kitchen area complete with margaritas on tap, expertly decorated pinstripe couches and hidden cabanas.
Inside the office (because, yes, people actually work here), the vibe changes into what you picture a start-up tech company to look like. The office has modern but simple architecture, white walls filled with photos of the brand's campaigns and open office desks. It's exactly the vision that founder and CEO Stirling Barrett had for his seven-year-old eyewear company — he just got there quicker than he imagined.
"When it comes to our footprint here, it's about the community. We're elevating everything together, and that's just really exciting," Barrett tells Fashionista as we sit on a porch that overlooks his new facility. I was there for the brand's second annual Krewe Fête, a weekend-long festival that raises money and awareness for Krewe foundation which gives glasses and eye exams to children throughout the city. The fête features everything from panels with brand collaborators to a family-style dinner with famous New Orleans cuisine. It is, in many ways, less a celebration of the brand and more of a toast to the Big Easy.
The hundred or so people attending the lunch all walk around outside sporting different pairs of Krewe glasses. The styles range from sporty and practical to edgy with hardware that some suggest is hard to "pull off." It's indicative, though, of just how prevalent Krewe is in this 350-mile city. When you land at the airport, there are Krewe billboards everywhere. You walk down Bourbon Street and you're sure to see at least five people wearing glasses by the brand.
"They're really proud and want to talk about it, and are excited we're doing what we're doing from here," Barrett says referring to the impact on the local community in which he grew up. "New Orleans is a very European city; it's the Northernmost Caribbean city. It's got this European [style] authenticity to it that a lot of America doesn't have — almost like when you go to Paris, or you go to any European city, you just see the brands of that city everywhere. Everybody is more stylish because of it, and the ads and the advertisements are all in it. I feel like we're getting to that here in New Orleans. We're doing our part, and the city is accepting of us."
This strategy of growing locally first and then expanding out is something that is proving to be wildly successful for Krewe. After becoming a finalist in the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund in 2016, the brand remains privately owned, self-funded, and although he will not share the annual revenue growth (Barrett feels culture and profitability are a better measure of success), the company is expanding by at least 50% every year. Currently, he has two brick and mortar shops in New Orleans, one in Austin and one in New York with plans to continue that trend. "We're testing for the right locations in Houston and Atlanta, Miami and DC. We see retail expansion as an important part of the brand, but in areas where we feel like we have something to say and the community wants us there."
In a world where social media has helped to democratize who and where someone can make it, the path to success has changed for many start-up brands and Barrett is happy to be on that side of it. He doesn't see investors as part of the future of his company and feels that his ability to remain independent allows the brand to prioritize sustainability and customer satisfaction over the bottom line. Not only did they recently move toward all plastic-free packaging, but they also created a program that gives you a lifetime guarantee on your glasses, ensuring they don't end up in the trash.
"I'm really excited about 'Second Chances,' which is every time you buy from Krewe, you don't just have to expect good quality, and customer service, and style, but we know shit happens, and when your frames break, we'll replace them for free as long as you registered; if you bought directly from us, you're pre-registered," Barrett explains.
Since being put on the map with the CVFF and several celebrity fans like Meghan Markle and Gigi Hadid, Krewe has been on a quiet but calculated trajectory of growth. Whether it's collaborations with Reformation, fellow-CVFF nominee Billy Reid or even Supergoop, Barrett wants his brand to stick around for a lot of reason, but mainly for his city.
"I'm really proud of still being here," he says as we wrap up our conversation. "We've got 100 people in the company now, and we're based in New Orleans. That's impactful. If New Orleans had more six-year-old companies doing that, I think the landscape of the community could start to change and will start to change."
Click through the gallery below to tour Krewe's New Orleans headquarters.
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