This year, American Optical is introducing the AO RX Collection—the brand’s first optical frame collection in decades, according to State Optical Co. executive Scott Shapiro. He explained to VM, “Since we acquired AO Eyewear in 2019, we’ve only produced and sold sunglasses under the brand. At Vision Expo West we’ll be launching the first optical styles with AO branding that haven’t been available in decades… we’ve been working on this launch for over a year to incorporate many of the unique AO details veteran ECPs will remember. We can’t wait to share it with our optical partners.”

With State and American Optical, Shapiro has a shown a true commitment to American-made eyewear. From the brands’ Illinois factory to all over the world, there is a distinctly American flair to each and every frame—and much of that is thanks to a dedicated and personal work ethic.

Shapiro said, “Manufacturing our own eyewear connects us directly to the most important (but often overlooked) aspect of our business, the expert craftsmanship of quality eyewear. You can’t help but look at a product differently when you’re making it yourself. You sign your name on that frame with every cut, every brush of the polishing wheel. It also gives everyone in our company, and all our customers, an extra sense of pride to be associated with a company that’s willing to take chances and reinvest in American manufacturing.”

Shapiro believes that being American-made is an important factor—but not the only thing that sells eyewear. He said, “While many consumers want to buy products made in USA, and many retailers want to carry them, the association with American manufacturing alone is not enough to move the needle. ‘American-made’ is an incredibly valuable element to add to a brand story, but it can’t be the whole brand story.

“Your eyewear brand still must be able to stand out and connect to patients and consumers on its own, otherwise it will get lost.” With State and American Optical’s dedicated and talented craftspeople handmaking each and every frame in Illinois, both brands are able to stand out from the crowd—for being made in the U.S., yes, but also for their top of the line work.

This also extends to the brands’ relationships with ECPs and accounts, who work closely with State and American Optical to tell the stories that make these frames so special. Said Shapiro, “Most of our accounts have been very proud to carry our American collections, but they’ve learned that their dispensers have to be willing and able to tell the brand story in order to make it successful among some of the biggest brands in fashion.

“As is true with so many aspects of our business, our brands are incredibly reliant on our relationship with the ECPs who are selling them. When they’re passionate about the brand, and passionate about how and where it’s made, we all can be very successful.” It is these personal relationships that truly build a community around eyewear.

Even when it comes to POP and marketing, Shapiro hopes State and American Optical can tell their American-made story, but also grow beyond that. “We’re trying to answer the question, why else does it matter to patients? What else is there for patients to connect to? Finding ways to express quality American craftsmanship through things like counter cards and displays helps opticians tell the story of a collection to connect the dots for patients,” Shapiro concluded.