Words: Luke Brown
Disruptor. How many times do you see or hear that phrase, as you doom scroll Instagram, or even worse, the cesspit of LinkedIn. It is an overused business tagline often applied to brands that in the main are completely unoriginal.
In short, it is genuinely rare to discover a disruptive company that is challenging, and revitalising established norms in their respective industry. However, when you do find said brand, it is gold dust.
The New Disruptor: Cambridge Spectacle Co.
It is not often I see a company where I can totally visualise them dislocating the status quo, even less so in an industry that I know little about. However, when I spoke to the pioneering, and visionary founder of Cambridge Spectacle Co. Ahmed Ejaz, it was enviably easy to see how his enterprise is not just carving out a unique identity within the eyewear-cum-optician landscape but is irreversibly shaking the shackles of the Vision Express and Specsavers monopoly that has the industry in an archaic chokehold. Disrupting? Undoubtedly. Disruptor? Unquestionably.
But you may be wondering what exactly the disruptor is disrupting. Well, Cambridge Spectacle Co. is an integrated optician-cum-glasses brand that serves customers by crafting expert led, exceptionally stylish eyewear, at an accessible price point. No one else is doing this, and especially at the scale that Ahmed intends to take the brand to.
It is the same old story with high-street opticians: stock fashion house eyewear, give the consumer the choice after their eye-tests, paying little attention to the extortionate prices that are attached to “high-fashion” glasses. You, the customer, are left with little option. That is until now. Ahmed and Cambridge Spectacle Co. has blown that door wide open.
After picking up, Ahmed takes me on a virtual tour of the flagship store in Cheltenham, and with clean, gallery-like décor, their products stand out in all their glory, and with iPads adoring central oak tables, the fusion of tech with sleek interiors hints at inspiration from Apple. Rightly so, Ahmed firmly states, that “our team just nailed it, and we’re really excited to open new locations”. But, before we talk about new locations and the ingenuity of the stores, let’s go back to the beginning. Where does this trailblazing success story start?
Ahmed Ejaz and His Vision
If there is someone you want establishing a spectacle company, it is probably best to look to an expert. Cue Ahmed: former optometrist. We have our expert. Next, we need our stagnant industry to disrupt. Enter high street opticians.
“When I worked as an optometrist, the most frequent gripe I heard was the unhappiness of customers having to shell out a small fortune on each pair of glasses. They were clamouring for a brand of excellent quality, that could deliver eyewear at a fair price,” Ahmed explains.
And who were at the heart of the problem? “The fashion houses were dominating this space, but I felt that industry experts should be at the forefront of crafting the product. It was from there where I knew we could develop a fantastic brand, producing eyewear above and beyond the quality on the market, whilst simultaneously being able to lower costs to the customer.”
"Looking at the success of Warby Parker in the US, the potential is enormous. We are talking a billion pound plus market.”
Cambridge Spectacle Co. was born. Recognition almost came overnight for Ahmed and his team, as a cold call to ASDA, soon after the company had been incorporated, suddenly turned into a whirlwind commercial goldmine. That initial call in December 2021, led to Ahmed closing a supply deal with ASDA in March 2022 - the company less than a year old. “We went on to the shelves in January 2023 as it took 7 or 8 months to get everything produced. ASDA’s confidence in us resulted in further investment of over £200k through Crowd Cube. Furthermore, we produced seven months of stock for ASDA. Most models sold out in six weeks.”
It would be an understatement to say that early success had been achieved. The gauntlet had been laid down. And this was only furthered by various celebrity endorsements including ex-footballer Ian Wright and comedian Rob Beckett. Even with the interest that is following Cambridge Spectacle Co., Ahmed still has absolute clarity on his long-term vision. “Nobody in the UK has created a brand that integrates the eye-test process with the sale of their own product. A full, succinct customer experience is totally unique in this industry, and looking at the success of Warby Parker in the US, the potential is enormous. We are talking a billion pound plus market.”
“Glasses are not just medical devices but also fashion items”
One of the defining features that has catalysed their success to date is the quality of both their products and overriding brand identity. With a manufacturing story that starts by taking inspiration from the architectural and cultural wonders of Cambridge, which then translates into carefully crafted, stunning acetate frames, and finally bespoke lenses for each pair, Ahmed has backed up his promise of delivering accessible eyewear of the highest quality. For Cambridge Spectacle Co. the best news is that demand is insatiable. “We get the sales results from the 157 ASDA stores we supply to every week, and we are selling thousands of pairs, so it is unbelievable proof of concept”.
This evidence proved to Ahmed and his team that it was time move to the next step of their vision: opening the flagship store. A fundamental facet that defines the core, unique identity of Cambridge Spectacle Co.: the osmosis of glasses brand with optician services.
We now come full circle back to Ahmed’s virtual store tour.
It is an unbelievable space, where chic interiors fuse with interactive technology upgrading the casual customers experience exponentially. A stroke of brilliance from Ahmed’s strategy advisor led to them placing iPads on the central tables for customers to use and craft exact specifications for their glasses, before or after they have had their consultation in the stylish optometrist office towards the back of the store. “He came up with the idea”, Ahmed says referring to his strategy advisor, “but I cut him off because I thought he meant putting the glasses on the table, which has been done before, but then after he explained in full, it made perfect sense.
“It has given us a distinct advantage over competitors because it allows customers to be actively involved with the process, and the easy use of the technology means a really smooth, enjoyable experience.”
It is in these small details that Ahmed has been defining Cambridge Spectacle Co. as a disruptor; giving customers a more bespoke experience to their eyewear shopping, juxtaposed to the dull, mundane, medical atmosphere of the high-street giants. After all, as Ahmed points out, “glasses are not just medical devices but also fashion items”.
The Future Beckons for Cambridge Spectacle Co.
Their first store in Cheltenham has been a huge success, as Ahmed elaborates on. “We have been reassured by the way the public reacted to us launching, and we have had hundreds of people come into the store and tell us how different we are and that we are a refreshing change to the usual optician.” The brand has truly established itself, and there is no hint of slowing down, rather it is turning up the heat on the high-street and challenging the companies currently resting on their laurels.
Ambition is at the forefront of Ahmed’s mind, and he lays out his goals for the next few years. “I think if we haven’t opened at least ten stores in the next five years we are moving too slowly. We also want to work on bringing in more technology to the retail experience, as well as the optician side of things. Think A.I. and 3D printing. These are all aspects we want to combine into the brand to ensure we are always at the cutting edge of the industry and ensuring the quality of our product.”
There is no hint of reticence, rather absolute confidence that these goals will be comprehensively achieved, and why not? In three years, Cambridge Spectacle Co. has begun to define itself as an authority in the eyewear industry, and as a genuine challenge to the established conglomerates. If their recent rapid form has been anything to go by, Cambridge Spectacle Co is on a trajectory for the stratosphere, so you better get your order in quick!