NEW YORK—Vontélle Eyewear was born, at least partially, out of coincidence, when friends Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris both lost expensive pairs of eyewear within the same year. While shopping for replacement frames, both women found that they couldn’t find exactly what they wanted, and, so in 2019, Vontélle was born. Born to stand out, Vontélle focuses on designs featuring textiles, patterns and colors from the African diaspora. Since the onset of the pandemic, Green and Harris have also been producing masks in the same patterns as their eyewear, and have coined the phrase #FullFaceFashion to describe what they do.

On their website, Harris and Green write, “Each of our products and accessories are designed to pay homage to our African ancestry with traditional colors and patterns that channel our African, Caribbean, and Latino heritage. Our patterns use many textiles and designs from highly identifiable, recognizable and respected materials like mud cloth and kente cloth. These designs are tailored to empower humanity to see the world through cultural and global lens.”

As independent eyewear designers and owners of their own company, Green and Harris find that they love the full and total freedom they experience from start to finish. Harris told VM, “Our approach as independent eyewear designers and owners is total freedom. We can create and sell eyewear designs we love and the ability to really listen to the concerns of our clientele. As a result, our spectacular patterns and textiles are new to the eyewear industry.” In addition to unique patterns and textiles, Green and Harris ensure that their eyewear is comfortable—wider nose bridges and longer temples are standard for Vontélle frames. “The goal is to change how you see and be seen,” Harris said.

Harris and Green originally planned to start their collection with 10 designs, but once they started inspiration took over—currently, the brand boasts 37 styles. All the frames are available as Transitions (which is how Green wears them) or as sunglasses. Harris’ favorite designs are the ones that feature Kente pattern, which is a pattern that originated in Ghana. She said, “The colors of the Kente cloth each hold symbolism: yellow represents fertility, green is renewal, blue signifies pure spirit/harmony, red is passion, and black is rich in culture. Once the prototypes arrived, the ornate and elegant textile in the mud cloth captured my eye.” Green, on the other hand, has trouble picking a favorite of her own: “like your children, you love them as they each have a different personality,” she said.

Green and Harris have also found that one of the most impactful parts of being an independent brand is working with independent ECPs. The company is still in the beginning stages of developing its relationships with ECPs, but, Harris said, “Optical shops are still the preferred channels used by consumers to purchase eyewear. Our approach is very personal as we reach out to ECPs directly to build a partnership… ECPs often have a diverse practice and already have a rapport with their clients. They are central as they assist patients by introducing new styles, brands and how each product meets specific needs.” Harris also expects that Vontélle will have a presence at My Vision Expo and Vision Expo East.

Harris and Green know that being a Black owned eyewear brand is something special, too. Harris said, “Think about this: In 2019, the global eyewear market was valued at approximately $135 billion and estimated to grow to $259 billion by 2027. Yet there are less than a handful of Black-owned and women-owned eyewear makers… Black buying power continues to grow, from $320 billion in 1990 to $1.3 trillion in 2018. Between 2000 and 2018, Black buying power rose 114 percent.”

That said, Harris underscores that she and Green design to appeal to anyone. “Stylish eyewear is universal,” she told VM. “Therefore, our primary target are adults ages 21-65, and consumers who want to purchase high end eyewear.”

Harris and Green also find that independence gives them the freedom to do good with their work. Right now, they partner with Women in Need, the largest provider of family shelter and supportive housing in New York City, where Vontélle is based. Harris said, “The National Institute of Health’s National Eye Institute reports that African Americans are more likely to have cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy than any other ethnic group. Befittingly, [we] partnered with WIN, the largest provider of family shelter and supportive housing in New York City. [Vontélle] will provide proceeds and or eyewear, as well as partner with optometrists to make annual visits to the housing facilities to offer free eye exams. [We] understand the importance and want to help with eye health disparities.”

Vontélle’s early success shows just how valuable and impactful independent eyewear brands and designers can be. With the freedom to design how they want, partner with who they want, and help their communities however they want, the road is wide open for independent designers everywhere—and Vontélle is a perfect example.

Vontélle co-founders Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris pose in their #FullFaceFashion. Image courtesy of Matt Frisbie and Vontélle Eyewear.

Frames and masks featuring Ghanaian kente patterns are some of Nancey Harris’ favorite designs in the collection. Image courtesy of Matt Frisbie and Vontélle Eyewear.

Some Vontelle styles are available with matching masks. Green and Harris coined the phrase #FullFaceFashion for this collection. Image courtesy of Matt Frisbie and Vontélle Eyewear.