You can’t throw a proverbial stone anywhere on social media these days without hitting a pair of Lexxola sunglasses. If you’re a celebrity superfan or just clued into cool style in the slightest, it’s impossible not to notice the extent to which the London-based brand is influencing the fashion world right now. And even if the name Lexxola doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve probably seen the shades on one of the many A-listers who have worn them, a list of names that only seems to be getting longer by the day.
Seemingly overnight the brand, but more specifically its warm-tinted aviator silhouette dubbed the Damien has become *the* hallmark of Gen Z’s notably bright and playful aesthetic. The lineup offers a tightly edited range of sunglasses that all follow the same template of thick black acetate frames married to translucent lenses in a range of punchy colors like orange, blue, and yellow. Launched in late 2019, the brand is not even two years old and has already managed to create the kind of impact that heritage labels only dream of, the kind of have-to-have-it impact that’s inspired a zillion dupes of its signature retro-cool shades (one search on Amazon for “tinted sunglasses” delivers over 2000 hits).
Call me biased, as I do own a pair of the blue Jordy shades, but I find myself reaching for the statement shades way more than I thought I would. Simple outfit? Add a pair of colorful sunglasses and it instantly becomes a whole look. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at Dua Lipa, Kourtney Kardashian, or Kaia Gerber—just a few of the faces you’ll recognize donning the sunglasses.
We caught up with Lexxola founder, Zane Saleh, to unpack the insane hype he’s created around the brand, discuss the economy of dupes that’s popped up in the wake of Lexxola’s rise, and why Gen Z is all over them. Oh, and introduce you to the brand’s latest shape, the sleek ’90s-inspired Eva.
I’d love to start out by having you share a little bit more about your background. Had you been working in the accessories space before?
Actually, no. My background is pretty unconventional in the fashion world. First of all, I studied economics at university, and then I ended up landing a job in art, where I worked for four to four or five years before starting like Lexxola.
Wait, you had zero experience in fashion, let alone in the accessories space? That’s fascinating. Do you think that has had an impact on your aesthetic and the look and feel of the sunglasses?
It’s allowed us to work as a team in a different kind of way. From having conversations with other fashion companies, there’s a structure and parameters that fashion brands have always used in the past. And I think coming from an unconventional background with essentially is zero experience has allowed us to think freely and write our own rules.
What was the initial spark that led you to launch Lexxola, then? What was the inspiration behind the brand?
First of all, I’ve always been a lover of sunglasses. What it ultimately stemmed from, though, was taking a step back to look at what the inherent problems were within the industry. I noticed a major lack of inclusion and feeling of community among the existing eyewear companies that are available to younger Millennials and Gen Z’s. It felt like the gap between brands and community reflected some sort of weird dated hierarchical approach. When we went even further, we started to look at how the industry is structured—it’s very monopolistic and dated. These huge companies have no need to innovate, which has brought about this ecosystem where there’s a lack of innovation. Reinventing old styles shouldn’t be the norm, but that is how it felt. So we tried to create a brand that spoke to this modern-day experience of glasses, and to the fact that we live in an expressive and inclusive society.
It sounds like building that community is really at the heart of the brand DNA. When you were first launching, was there anyone you thought to yourself “I really want to see them wearing the sunglasses”?
What we want to do is be a digital mirror to society. Living in the cities and being around cities my whole life, and going to places like New York, I realized that these are spaces which are rich in culture and diversity, and people of various different talents. So [our ideal customer] is not one-dimensional. When we took that macro outlook, it became easier for us to highlight who we want to work with and it just comes down to asking ourselves, “Do they represent our values?”
I feel like the calling card for Gen Z has become the Lexxola and more specifically the Damien in the orange and yellow tints. Without fail, I can open up my TikTok and see the sunglasses all over my For You Page (and across social media in general). Why do you think they’ve become so popular among Gen Z?
I think there are various factors and all of this is beyond it being something that is visually cool. Ultimately, a big reason comes down to timing. We really started to get traction in the early months of 2020 and then of course the last 15 or 16 months of everyone’s lives have been locked up indoors during these unheard-of times. People had no other option than to express themselves digitally. So you have an entire generation of young individuals who are looking for expressive products. Beyond what we talked about with a sense of community and the product just being cool, it’s that there’s clearly a demand for the younger generation who have experienced a really tough time in the last few years who are looking for something these really expressive, and I think that’s what [Lexxola] comes down to.
With all of the buzz inevitably comes many copycat styles and Lexxola dupes have undoubtedly infiltrated the market. If anything, that’s a great sign that you’re doing something right. But what are your thoughts on all of the many dupes that people have been promoting as the real thing?
Straight away, we love them. Here’s the thing: we’re selling to a younger generation, right? So we realize that ultimately, our product is not cheap. We’re not necessarily the cheapest in the market. And at the end of the day, our products are built to inspire confidence that leads to action in cities, so if you can get that at a cheaper price point, who are we to say that that’s wrong?
Is there a best-selling frame? And colorway?
The Damien was the first bestseller and has been the longest-standing bestseller, but the Jordy is getting really close if not beating it and we recently released the Antonio which has been a great success. Ultimately, that is the fusion of the Damien and Jordy. We took favorable aspects of both and made a style that was 93% statistically similar to the average of the two. We’re trying to create a product based on what customers love, but yeah, in general, the Damien in black and orange is our icon.
We had a style previously called the Vale that we decided to that wasn’t part of the future. But actually, since then a large portion of our customers keep asking for it. When’s it coming back? When can I order it again? So we’ve created a new iteration of that product, renamed it, and we’ve actually managed to bring it at the most affordable price that we’ve been able to offer yet. Meet the Eva. It’s similar to what we had before but far more improved. It’s more ergonomically sound, too. And it willfill that space in our roster where we’re lacking right now.
Was there a moment when you really started to notice the brand taking off? Did you have any kind of “Oh shit!” moment?
I always feel like Gen Z wants to feel a situation out, they want to learn about the brand to find out if they represent their values rather than just looking at a product and saying, “Oh, I like the look of that.” So we didn’t have that one big moment necessarily. It’s been more continuous and consistent compounding growth, which I think is reflective of how this generation works when you compare them with the early Instagram generations. Gen Z really wants to be part of something. It’s no longer enough to just be a brand, they want to feel part of a community, they want to know a little bit more about the brand. And I think that translates into a slower build-up, but a more measured approach to shopping online.
You said earlier that you consider Lexxola to be “somewhere between a fashion brand and a service company.” What does the service component to this entail?
We try and communicate with our customers across all verticals, whether that’s holding focus groups in London where we bring a selection of customers into the office and ask them how we could be better. There’s that real-life approach and then there are all the digital platforms on social media. What’s quite funny is that sometimes we accidentally stumble upon new ways in which we can get information from our customers. So, for example, yesterday, we announced that we’re releasing a couple of new colorways, and in a style that we have called the Damien and we asked people to guess.
Because human psychology is the way it is, people will guess what they want to see. We saw these really clear trends and reacted to them instantly. I’ve already spoken with our factory to actually create the pairs that were most popular in this poll.