LAST WEEK I MET: MARK DE LANGE
“I have many sneakers and just one pair of glasses…”
Mark de Lange
Ace & Tate, an Amsterdam based eyewear brand that has gone international with a campaign dubbed “The Graduates Project“. Launched in London first, then Berlin and finally at home in Amsterdam it showcases inspiring creatives and provides a platform to share their stories. It will continue documenting the unique identities from different cities with each season.
I had a chance to meet Mark de Lange, the man behind Ace & Tate, in Berlin for a little chat about his business growing from a drooling baby to an actual company, him sucking at playing guitar, and being the worst manager in the history of management.
SO I‘VE READ THAT YOU‘RE A BIG MUSIC FAN.
AND A LOT OF THE GLASSES ARE INSPIRED BY MUSIC?
Well yeah, as much as you can inspire a pair of glasses by music. I like the theme of music running through our company. One day I was thinking how you can run a company. I thought kind of as it would be like being in a band. Everybody brings their own tunes. Music is just in everything I do and somehow relates back to it. I have a pretty particular taste. I do listen to a lot of different stuff but I always get back to rock ’n’ roll. I‘m big into rock music and everybody‘s surprised when I tell them.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A BAND?
No, I was never in a band. I play guitar, I’ve been playing for a bit but I sucked at that. That‘s the main reason.
THE RAMONES DID AS WELL.
Yeah, I actually got really big into the Ramones recently. I never really listened to them but like the past two or three months got really big into the whole New York punk scene. I love the Ramones.
OK SO I‘VE GOT A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS WRITTEN DOWN HERE..
There probably is.
CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLE MAN AND SELLING EXCLUSIVELY ONLINE IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT DIFFERENTIATES YOU.. IF YOU DO A SHOP, IS IT GOING TO AFFECT THE PRICES AT ALL?
There is still no middle man. Still us in the shop. It‘s kind of an extension of what we do now. It‘s not set in stone yet. We just see that retail has been very good to us. It also seems like it has been a really good marketing channel to us. People walking around, not knowing the brand, seeing it… So I do believe that further experiment is warranted. Let‘s put it that way. It will probably be pop-up shops first. If we would do it, it would be with the idea to open a bunch of them. I would never do one store. I believe Ace & Tate in my head is already much bigger than it is now. So I really want Ace & Tate to be a big European player.
ALL YOUR GLASSES ARE MADE IN ITALY. IS IT GOING TO STAY LIKE THAT EVEN WHEN YOU GET BIGGER?
We experiment in China. Quality is absolutely off the charts! It‘s really fantastic, really good craftsmanship, good factories who work with all major fashion brands. Work conditions are great. It is definitely of interest for us but I would love to do everything here. Move everything back here and just keep it there. Because it‘s easier for us. We‘re very small and Italy is just throughout the way. And China is not.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE “BLACK IS THE NEW GREEN“ COLLECTION?
That was one of the bigger acetate companies. I guess end of last year we started with the collection. What they did is, they developed a material that is the same as acetate but much more environmentally friendly. I didn‘t like all the colours the material came in. But I liked the black. So we did “Black Is The New Green“ collection.
SO HOW DID IT HAPPEN? WHY GLASSES?
I‘m on prescription. I had one pair, and a room full of sneakers. I have many sneakers and just one pair of glasses. That seemed very strange, and I started thinking why. Because buying glasses sucks! Picking sucks, going through to a regular optician to test the glasses sucks. There‘s someone breathing down your neck, someone wants to push you to make a choice, and it’s not your friend, he doesn‘t understand your style. So that sucks and also it‘s pretty expensive. More than it needs to be. So I wanted to see if I can start a company that makes this process easier and friendlier with a pair of glasses that was the same level of style, same level of quality, same materials, same hands make it but then a different price point. Eventually I just started researching and it was very possible to do this.
Yeah I googled the shit out of it. I went to a bunch of fairs and started to find my way around the industry and just started.
WHEN YOU‘RE NOT TRAVELING HOW DOES YOUR NORMAL WORKING DAY LOOK LIKE?
I wouldn‘t say there is such a thing as a regular day. I really have to grow into this role of the CEO now. I haven‘t been at the office enough, I‘m away all the time. I‘m starting to work more around the company, growing the company. It has been more and more my role into becoming the creative director instead of working in the company, doing my operational stuff less and less.
My typical day starts when I open my eyes. I start checking sales numbers, checking what’s going on, going on Facebook, stuff like that. Then I actually train myself to tackle a couple things first before I start answering my emails. So I do a couple of projects that are lying around. Then email, usually a lot of phone calls. Then going to the company, see if everything is going as it should. I spend a lot of time now hiring new people, so recruitment takes up a lot of my time – finding new people for the designing team, finding new people for marketing. See how you can add some more value to the brand. Umm, what do I actually do? I‘d say my days mostly evolve around that…
I love Berlin! It‘s a really inspiring city. We had a hunch that Germany was a good market. There was financial reasons to do Germany. I think every decision you make, the fundamentals must be in place. But a lot of different cities can have the fundamentals then it just comes down to having the right feeling and just that click. And that’s what I‘ve been feeling for Germany, I think Berlin is really inspiring. There is a lot going on, a lot of creative people in the city, a lot of young people and just seeing that our target audience is really being representative is really inspiring. It’s not the most business like decision making process.
HAVE YOU ALSO THOUGHT ABOUT COLLABORATIONS? WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH?
There are a couple of collaborations coming up. But I can‘t really talk about it yet. One of my goals starting out was to work with Voo. I love that store.
CHECKED OFF OF YOUR BUCKET LIST…
Yeah, that was good. I would love to work with APC. I think APC is a fantastic brand. I think the way they present their brand is just unparalleled. They‘re very good at what they do. There‘s also a bunch of musicians I would love to work with.
I love Graham Coxon, the guitar player of the Blur. He has a very distinct pair of glasses, so I would love to do something with him. It‘s not a huge music name but I would love to do something with him.
SO IT IS A PERSONAL FAVOURITE?
Yeah, it‘s a personal favourite. Usually if you do something, you feel good about, it always shines through, even if it‘s not Lady Gaga. We have a little bucket list that we‘re working on right now. It‘s European expansion, different countries after Germany, and it‘s moving more and more abroad, not only in terms of retail but also in terms of activities. I would like to put on concerts. Move into that.
WHAT ABOUT ABOUT AMERICA OR ASIA?
I think there are other markets that are interesting to us out of Europe but we’re not ready.
THE OFFICE THAT YOU ARE IN NOW. HAVE YOU BEEN THERE FROM THE BEGINNING?
No, it‘s our third office. We‘re running out of space constantly. We should grow out of this one pretty soon, too. It‘s pretty much all the things you get, you‘re confronted with once your company starts to grow. Stuff you‘d never think of, or I never thought of. Like managing people, and all that.
CAN‘T YOU JUST HIRE SOMEONE TO DO THAT FOR YOU?
Yeah, that‘s the plan. I‘m the worst manager in history of management.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO PUT OUT THERE, SOMETHING NOBODY ASKED?
Well, what surprises me is that, of course I understand that price is a defining feature something you would see when you look at our company, but our company is a lot about quality, about style, and about service. I‘m surprised that no one really focuses on that. One of the reasons I started Ace & Tate again is just because mostly buying in this case glasses just sucks. The service in Holland is just terrible. I just wanted to be treated as a customer. That‘s what we set out to do with Ace & Tate, and we‘re getting such a fantastic response for that. People love what we do. And I think that is what‘s really defining the company. It‘s not the price. To make something cheaper is not that hard. It‘s the quality and the service is actually higher, on a much higher level than what you get at an optician. That is something I don‘t get to tell, and that surprises me.