“We have a different perspective”

The team from Corker Outdoor, Award sponsor Jason Varney (Thomson, Snell & Passmore) & Eamonn Holmes

Stepping into the bijou premises that Edney & Edney optometrist and opticians occupies on Monson Road you immediately get a sense this is a specialist retail business that’s had a lot of thought and passion poured into it.

Multiple rows of brightly coloured Kirk & Kirk glasses frames greet you on arrival just before you reach the main minimalist space of the independent eyewear store, where you’ll find all manner of über cool looking spectacles all beautifully displayed on backlit custom-made shelving that ranges from polished glass to funky metal.

It’s fair to say that Edney & Edney feels more like a chic boutique for those in the fashion know rather than your average opticians – but then that’s exactly what owners Jamie and Ayshah Edney who own and run the business want you to think.

“When we launched Edney & Edney five and a half years ago we had a very clear vision and that was to be the complete opposite of a high street optician,” explains Jamie as we sit down to chat at his desk.

Bedecked in a funky pair of tangerine coloured Kirk & Kirk glasses, a smart tailored tweed jacket and the coolest pair of yellow laced boots, Jamie certainly doesn’t look like the type of person who’d test your eyesight.

He starts by explaining how he and his wife Ayshah have 40-plus years of combined experience in the optics field and that after years of working for mainstream opticians they were both determined to create something very different for the eyewear market.

“I’m a dispensing optician and Ayshah is an optometrist. The easiest way to think about how we operate is it’s a bit like a doctor and pharmacy type set up. Ayshah finds out what a person’s eyesight needs are and I get the prescription made up.”

Jamie, who also employs an assistant optician, says he spent most of his career working in Tonbridge while Ayshah operated out of Sevenoaks before they started their own business.

“We’d harboured a dream to work together for a long time so five and a half years ago, just after we’d had our second child and I had turned 40, we thought to ourselves if we don’t do it now then we never will,” continues Jamie.

“Doing your own thing means giving up the good job you have already but also thinking to yourself ‘well we have this unique idea about what we want to do but if it’s that obvious to us then why hasn’t somebody else done it?’ That kind of thinking definitely held us back for a couple of years.”

Eventually though the couple decided to take the brave leap of launching their own business specialising in luxury niche eyewear brands.

“We opened from scratch which was tough,” adds Ayshah. “The shop we took on had been a hairdressers and was left vacant for about a year. So there was a lot of work to do before launching. The idea was to create a space that didn’t look like an opticians or feel like working in one either.”

This vision also applied to the brands the duo wanted to stock instore. “We wanted to bring independent, small batch eyewear to the UK but more importantly to Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area because people don’t usually have access to this,” explains Jamie.

“There are a couple of central London stores, one in Manchester and also one in Newcastle who are offering similar things to us but not to this extent.”

Edney & Edney now stock around 12 artisan eyewear brands including Jacques Marie Mage, theo, Chrome Hearts and Orgreen.

Jamie says that although it was tough launching a brand-new business by themselves the beauty of it was they had complete control over everything. “We weren’t buying an existing opticians as that would have cost a lot of money. But if we had and we’d put in what we wanted to stock then we would have immediately alienated around 80% of customers! And if we had done a drip feed of stock; doing a bit of upmarket, a bit of unusual, a bit of unique we’d be neither here nor there. Our situation meant we didn’t have anything to lose so we opened as we wanted to and hoped people would like what we were about – and thankfully they did.”

Ayshah also expresses her delight at how well the people of Tunbridge Wells responded: “Ever since we launched customers have been very supportive and I think that’s because people here do like different and have a history of championing independents.”

Jamie goes on to say that as well as customers loving Edney & Edney’s ‘unique, luxury, creative and fun’ ethos when it comes to sourcing exclusive eyewear there is another key factor that attracts clients.

“I think it’s the relaxed atmosphere we have here in store. We only see eight people a day – not 28 – so you get a lot of time with us. There is zero pressure on sales purchases too as most people who come through the door have already made up their mind they want to be here so it becomes a fun experience rather than a chore.

“If you think of a traditional opticians it’s a scenario where someone is told they need glasses, and then that they need to choose a pair – usually from a choice of 300 plus frames! And yet that person is thinking ‘well I don’t really want glasses and don’t know what’s fashionable or looks good’. And I can guarantee that every pair tried on in a regular opticians the assistants will say ‘oh that looks good on you.’ But the truth is you can’t try ten things on and they’ll all look good.”

Jamie says he can back all of the above up with some market research he and Ayshah carried out before opening their shop.

“We discovered that people were more inclined to go to the dentist than the opticians! The reasoning was that although the dentist can be a bit noisy and painful they can’t get it wrong. Whereas if you visit an opticians and you don’t know what you’re looking for then there’s usually not enough guidance which means you might make a mis-informed and potentially very expensive purchase.

“Here it’s the other way around. People clearly want to come to us, there’s no pressure for us to sell or for them to buy as the products here speak volumes and you can’t get them elsewhere. Choosing eyewear then becomes a fun experience for customers because we take time working with people to find out what they want.”

“I think our clients look at it as finding something that will go with them – and not just a necessary purchase,” states Ayshah. “They might want a pair of glasses that mirrors their personality or fashion sense, and I don’t think people have looked at it like that before. You’ll find a lot of people come in here and want a sensible, elegant pair of glasses but then they start pushing themselves just a little bit further. It’s very interesting.”

Jamie reveals the pair actively encourage people to go to the edge of their comfort zone. “If you do this then there’s myriad benefits: you choose the best pair of glasses, you get more people commenting than ever on how good you look and next time you come in for glasses you’re far more confident! You want to up the ante and go for something different and then it becomes a pleasurable purchase rather than a practical one.”

But Jamie and Ayshah openly admit that with this type of bespoke approach to sourcing exclusive frames there is a heftier price tag attached.

“As we’re stocking fairly unique pieces that you can’t find elsewhere, frames here start around £250 and top out around £3,000 – but the 3K bracket is not what we’re about. If someone comes in, really likes a certain frame but can’t stretch to that sort of price then we will try and source alternatives for them. We always say it’s not about elitism here. If someone loves what we do but can’t quite get there in terms of price then I’ll go to the marketplace and source what I consider looks the best and is still of a superior quality. I’m also really interested in brands who have a great back story too because we don’t want to work with any large manufacturers at all.”

That means you won’t find a pair of Ralph Lauren tortoiseshell specs or black Prada or Chanel shades chez Edney & Edney. The brands they do stock – and absolutely love – are ones that unless you are already a customer you’ve probably never heard of. But despite being under the radar they actually have the edge over the mass market says Jamie as most are handmade, produced in limited edition batches or come in colours that you would never find on the high street.

“Kirk & Kirk, who are based in Shoreham near Brighton sell all the colourful frames. Now if you came in and bought a pair of them today we wouldn’t be surprised if you had four pairs by the end of the year as their colours suit the season and different styles of wardrobes.”

But Edney & Edney’s USP isn’t just about sourcing artisan glasses. The business highly values its bespoke approach to its customers too.

“Without blowing our own trumpet too much we do look after them. If for example we get a particular product in I might Whatsapp or email a client saying: ‘I’ve got this, thought of you’. But having said that we certainly won’t bombard customers every week with that type of personal contact because again it goes back to that thing of you can’t tell someone something looks good all the time.

“If you see a key piece and think ‘ooh that will suit so and so’ you make contact but that might only be once a year or once every two years. It’s certainly not trying to disguise a quick sale, far from it as the second you do that people switch off.”

Ayshah says this way of doing business stems purely from being so passionate about what they do at Edney & Edney.

“Jamie loves the frames and when he’s looking at collections he’ll often have a certain client in mind so actually he’s always thinking about individuals.”

That commitment and drive for excellence also applies to the clinical side of the business. As an optometrist Ayshah is equally focused on delivering exceptional service to the many clients she sees.

“What’s key is we love what we are doing. I’m as passionate in my consulting room as Jamie is out here.”

Ayshah’s professional space is state-of-the-art and somewhere Jamie says that visiting eye specialists love to go into and have a play around with all the equipment.

“A lot of eye surgeons visit us and enjoy playing around with the tech as it’s usually better than what they have in hospitals. And although we’re all about the glasses looking good on customers they still have to have see out of them so we are hugely committed to providing the best visual experience possible.

“The reason we don’t shout too much about the clinical side of things here at Edney & Edney is because every optician in the country shouts about this. So why get into the battle when we’ve decided to take a different approach?”

Jamie then reveals they have aligned themselves exclusively with Nikon for all lenses because quite simply they are the best.

“They’re like the Rolls Royce if you will. I guarantee that if you buy a pair of varifocals from us you won’t have any issues. Varifocals were developed around 30 years ago and if you’re buying them from one of the price driven opticians on the high street that’s the product you’re getting. In short you don’t get given Mercedes Benz at Skoda prices! At our price point and with Nikon lenses you get the very best available and as such glasses become easy to wear – a joy to wear in fact.”

Jamie adds that all Edney & Edney glasses, which include a few kids’ ranges, come with a guarantee and presentation box which is exactly the type of customer experience you’d expect from a good watch supplier or jeweller.

“We’re all about that level and style of service,” Jamie states. “We see glasses as being more than just something that’s functional but something you want to wear. In this country it’s built into us to have a pair of glasses and then two years later you might get another pair but if you go to most of mainland Europe or the US then people have at least six pairs in a wardrobe. They put their outfit on and decide which pair will go with their clothes. It’s an extension of personality, of style.”

Edney & Edney’s glasses aren’t just limited to prescriptions though. Jamie says they get lots of requests for sunglasses too – and just like their vision glasses all their sunnies are from handpicked indie labels too.

“We don’t sell any traditional fashion designer brands so you won’t find any Ray Bans, or Gucci – just independent sunglasses manufacturers. They don’t do handbags, cologne, or lipsticks, just quality glasses.”

Before the pandemic hit Jamie would travel all over the world – from the States to Europe to the Far East – in order to source exclusive brands. And he’s hoping all that will change soon as it’s something he enjoys.

“For me it’s all about finding the most creative people out there. When starting out I had to knock on a lot of doors, but more and more people are approaching me now. Edney & Edney has made a bit of a name in the industry; people want to partner with us. For example, Chrome Hearts – a super exclusive, super expensive, super everything brand. I wanted it for the shop as it provides a benchmark of who we are and what we’re about. I eventually got to meet them and bought a lot of their stock. Ayshah nearly killed me actually as you could buy a car with what I spent but the fact is we haven’t looked back since. That’s how exclusive they are and now similar brands of that ilk are knocking on our door.

“It’s great when these eyewear companies want to work with you. During the first lockdown we didn’t know when or how we would be trading and yet each supplier contacted me saying: ‘don’t worry about anything until you’re open again’. If we were trading with bigger companies it would have been the opposite attitude and that’s why lots of opticians went by the wayside during the pandemic. But we’re working with lots of small companies, and if we’re not here for them they’ve not got anyone to sell to. That’s why we work collaboratively. I also think people want to support small local companies especially now.”

Having such high-end covetable companies in stock means that Jamie and Ayshah welcome clients from all over the place. “We have a huge reach with people coming from all along the south coast from Brighton across to Folkestone and Whitstable and up to London and beyond.”

Jamie adds they even have clients coming up from places such as Bristol to check out their new season stock and that the best way to get their name out there is always via word of mouth.

“Recommendation and referral are key. We are very lucky that people don’t just buy our glasses but also buy into what we are doing. People like recommending and people like being recommended. It goes back to what Ayshah was saying earlier: We find that we have a very supportive community here in Tunbridge Wells. We have lots of stylish people coming in and saying they have seen so and so wearing our glasses. It’s funny because normally people don’t pass comment on people’s glasses but with ours they do!”

Given the business’s continued success would Edney & Edney ever be tempted to expand? “No,” Jamie responds swiftly. “We have been asked about this and there are some areas we could definitely go into but this store is Ayshah and me. If we expanded one of us wouldn’t be here in Tunbridge Wells and I think we have only just scratched the surface of what we can do here. So yes, I think we’re here for the long term and we want to keep doing what we do: sourcing and stocking exclusive and unique frames, providing excellent customer service and approaching things from a different perspective.”

And finally what do the couple like most about trading in Tunbridge Wells? “The clients. Until we opened ago I’d spent 22 working in a traditional opticians and if you sat in front of me you’d probably say ‘ugh I need new glasses’. Whereas here it’s the opposite. People are excited about getting new glasses! I had a woman in here the other day from New Zealand. Her sister had recommended she pop in while she was visiting and so she booked into see Ayshah and is now having four different pairs made up!

“She came in and said ‘my sister told me you had some really funky glasses’! She was absolutely delighted with what we could offer her – and she wanted to be here which is just joyous. I can honestly say we come to work buzzing and we leave buzzing as we know are making a difference.”


The eyes have it:

Jamie Edney reveals a few of the exclusive independent brands you’ll find instore

Chrome Hearts: “A super exclusive, super expensive, super everything brand. I wanted it for the shop as it provides a benchmark of who we are and what we’re about.”

Jacques Marie Mage: “All frames are handmade in Japan and are limited edition so once it’s gone it’s gone. They can make a batch of 500 or just 100. This brand is definitely a favourite with customers.”

Kirk and & Kirk: “This is the colourful brand! They are made by English designers, based down in Brighton and this sells so well for us. Robbie Williams’ head of security wears a pair from us and Robert Downey Jr champions it.”

theo: “Hailing from Belgium again theo is all about colour – and form too. The brand’s optics are just beautiful. They are easy to wear pieces but are unique so you’re not going to find many people wearing this brand locally.”

l.a Eyeworks: “The brand was started 42 years ago in Los Angeles by Barbara McReynolds and Gai Gheradi. The idea was to challenge the notion of traditional, safe eyewear and they have certainly achieved this with their collections! They regularly collaborate with celebrities including Ru Paul.”


FACEBOOK: @edneyandedney
INSTAGRAM: @edneyandedney

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