Kirk & Kirk has found recognition in a competitive market with standout designs and an unexpected social media collaboration with pathologist assistant Nicole Angemi.
Even with a unique product it can be challenging for a small- or medium-sized business to set itself apart. Eyewear company Kirk & Kirk has come up with an unusual solution. To give its product a boost it has teamed up with Instagram star and pathologist assistant Nicole Angemi for a limited-edition line of eyewear that has raised a few eyebrows but exemplifies Kirk & Kirk’s willingness to think beyond the expected.
We live in times that place a premium on the next big thing, but there’s still some hesitancy when it comes to surprises. Do not look up Angemi’s account if you are squeamish. The American medical professional – who goes by @Mrs_Angemi on Instagram – offers a fascinating window on the gruesome injuries, diseases and decaying bodies she works with every day. Her feed has attracted a 1.4 million-strong following.
“Mrs Angemi presents a different approach to the way we think about life and death,” says Jason Kirk, one half of the husband and wife team behind the brand. “She’s also really into glasses, so we have common interests.”
Kirk & Kirk has a particular reason for wanting to stand out. “The media conversation at the moment is all about price and function and people lose sight of value,” Karen says. “We want people to reflect on the difference that quality makes.”
Handmade by artisans in France, with detailing by specialists in Birmingham, Kirk & Kirk’s frames are not cheap but Karen insists they are not luxury items: “Once you’ve got one pair of really good glasses, you understand why they’re worth having. We use materials like acrylic – which is one-third lighter than the plastics typically used – and we design our own one-of-a-kind colours.”
Angemi has enthusiastically promoted the new partnership on her Instagram. “Glasses are as much a part of my wardrobe as my shoes or my clothes,” she says, “but they are even more important because they are on my face! Kirk & Kirk glasses are bold, unique and make a statement. The brand really fits with my brand.” Brand compatibility will be of key importance to the success of this – or any – campaign.
Lee Kennedy-Washington of Viral Seeding, a specialist influencer marketing agency, feels the collaboration positions them as challengers. Having recently opened its first office in the US, its partnership with Angemi is also helping Kirk & Kirk extend its reach. “This collaboration is a way into the American market for this British company,” says Kennedy-Washington. “With Mrs Angemi about to have her own television show, her glasses will be part of her image in media appearances and on screen. That’s enormous value from a relatively low-cost investment.”
Doing things differently is also key to the Kirk & Kirk ethos. Jason’s forebears, brothers Sidney and Percy Kirk started their glasses brand in 1919 and were among the first to employ motorbike couriers to deliver their goods around London.
The Kirks have been keeping this spirit of innovation alive. They founded Kirk Originals in the 1990s, drawing on a rich family heritage of design. The couple discovered classic eyewear created by Jason’s grandfather in a suitcase, which provided inspiration for their styles.
Kirk Originals was a successful firm, but Jason and Karen disagreed with the direction investors wanted to take it in, and walked away from the business in 2013. They went on to create Kirk & Kirk the same year, optimistic about the fresh direction their new company would take.
The venture was not without its challenges, as Jason explains: “When you’re a small business it’s not always obvious where the money’s going to come from for simple things like stock, and turning away customers just feels wrong. Traditional financing opportunities are slow and not reactive, whereas we needed flexibility.”
Spotcap is an online lender that offers small- and medium-sized companies loans. The funding is based on the health of the business – Spotcap does not get involved in future plans or strategy. This freedom has allowed Kirk & Kirk to grow the business their way, although Jason says they still appreciate their ongoing communications with Spotcap.
Stephen Whelan, business relationship manager at Spotcap UK says: “We make an effort to keep in touch, so our customers know we are in this together and that we care about their future development.
“As a former business owner myself, I love the passion and creativity of Kirk & Kirk’s approach. They are always looking for new and better ways to do things, and I think that drive and willingness to innovate is part of what makes a company successful in the long-term.”
In fact, Kirk & Kirk’s creative approach has been paying off in spades. “In 2016 we turned over a few hundred thousand, which was encouraging for our first full-year’s trading,” says Jason. “That year we forecast growth of 8-10%. The reality was very different: we saw a 55% increase in turnover.
“Spotcap allowed us to finance the stock to deliver great client service, which in turn allowed us to open our office in Philadelphia.
“In 2018 it looks likely that we’ll pass the £1m mark, with commensurate profits. A couple of years ago a 10% growth forecast seemed ambitious, but now when we put 25% into our spreadsheets I ask myself why we are being so cautious!”
Kirk & Kirk has busy times ahead. Next year it will mark the centenary of the Kirk family’s involvement in the field of optics. At the same time the company is remaining resolutely unique in its business and design values. “We don’t want to do the traditional thing,” says Jason. “We want to surprise people and make them think differently about eyewear.”