A couple of young Northeast men with a penchant for dropping out of helicopters over Canadian mountaintops and skiing down them are marketing eyewear for active adventurers. Their company is called Lifted Optics, and their product, wood-framed sunglasses.
Neil Manns and Nate Thill, who now live in St. Anthony, said they didn’t intend to get into selling sunglasses. They were looking for snow goggles that would stay on their faces while they skied and snowboarded. And they were tired of paying $200 a pair.
“I buy new goggles every year,” said Thill. “Different lenses, different color frame. I always match my goggles to my jacket. I think I have nine pairs of goggles.”
“When we were going to do goggles, Nate and I talked for months about how we wanted to do everything. The plan originally was to find some cheap sunglasses then brand them and sell them alongside our goggles. Sunglasses were to be the afterthought. Then we met with the manufacturers that make these glasses and we just fell in love with the workmanship and the quality,” said Manns.
The wood is responsibly sourced from trees all over the world. Lifted Optics plants a tree for every pair of sunglasses they sell.
They did more research and began to build a Facebook page to promote their product. “I wasn’t ready for it to go live,” said Thill. “One day, one of our friends found it and shared it and within two hours we had 200 and some likes. I was like, ‘Oh God, what are we gonna do? I gotta get content in here. I gotta get everything going.’ Our goal was to run Kickstarter and ship glasses by the end of the summer.” They ended up with 214 backers, some of whom pre-ordered nine pairs of sunglasses.
“I was working full time, still am, and I would work from 8 to 5, come home, have another cup of coffee or two, and start working on Lifted from 6 o’clock ‘til two or three in the morning. I’d get up at 5, work on Lifted for a little while before I went to work.”
Said Josh Baier, who joined Thill and Manns as their social media and marketing director, “We’ve been roommates for nine years. I’d walk into his bedroom and he’d be sitting in his bed typing until 2 a.m. There was so much we didn’t know. He was reading books about how to build a brand.”
“It was wild,” conceded Thill. “But we got funded. That’s one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, getting that thing funded.”
Lifted Optics products are sold in a couple of small stores, but don’t expect to find them in big-box stores. “We work with stores that fit our vision, our niche. It’s been interesting trying to figure out how to do all of that. We have zero retail experience.”
But they’re gaining it fast. A lot of their sales have come from appearances at pop-up events, such as Open Streets Northeast. The guys pull up with their vintage silver Airstream trailer, open the side window and they’re in business.
Recalled Baier, “Our very first event, we thought we were so ready. And the very first person that came up to me was, like, ‘Hey, do you have a mirror?’ I called Neil, who had been up all night filling Kickstarter orders and said, ‘Neil, we don’t have a mirror!’ I thought, ‘How do we not know these things?’ You learn something every event.”
They made their first display out of an old skateboard, a shipping pallet, some fence posts and coat hangers.
The company’s tagline is “Live. Life. Lifted.” The products are aimed at mountain climbers, hikers, kayakers and others doing something active. “We work with the colors and styles that fit our vision,” he said. “We’re a brand/design for the modern adventurer. We love earth tones; we don’t try to get super crazy with anything. We want to be [known as] that outdoor brand of durable glasses that are affordable.”
Although they’re pleased with their first year of business, the trio say they’re in it for more reasons than money. One is creative expression. The other is to be able to give back. That’s why they plant trees, and why, after a recent food truck rally, they took their profits and handed them, in cash, to Meals on Wheels.
Umm…about those ski goggles? The guys say, “Next year.”
Below: Neil Manns, Nate Thill and Josh Baier pose for a photo. They sell Lifted Optics mostly through pop-up events. Baier, the group’s social media and marketing director, is manning the vintage trailer in the middle photo. Their accidental entry into the marketplace has kept them hopping — though they source their sunglass products from a manufacturer, there’s plenty to do on the retail end. (Photos by Mike Madison)