There has been a lot of chat about blogger ethics over the last couple of months, from the publication of by the UK’s competition regulator of its report into online reviews and endorsements (which I have not yet finished, given it’s not my area of the day job) to my girl Reshmi of Anges de Sucre’s recent brush with viral notoriety as a result of her post about #BloggerBlackmail. This is a fast-changing field, and no wonder we grapple with questions like when is it okay to accept free products and invitations; and to what extent should things be disclosed.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently in the context of IOLLA, the Scottish eyewear designer that has just opened its first “showroom” in Finnieston. I’ve been in a couple of times now: first to try on some glasses, and then for an official blogger launch party a week or so back. The showroom is absolutely beautiful – all exposed brick and incredible lighting and gorgeously displayed glasses – and obviously I was social media-ing it up all over the place. As a result of those posts I’ve had a lot of people asking me: would I recommend it? My answer is a definite yes – and one that is probably the most enthusiastic of yesses I’ve given in a long time.
I’ve always been pretty upfront about the fact that Last Year’s Girl is a personal blog, even when I was predominantly writing about music and trying to avoid putting too much of myself into my posts (something which I’ll hopefully go into more detail about this week as I officially celebrate 10 years of Last Year’s Girl on Saturday). What that means is that everything I write about here is completely honest, because I’m usually putting as much of myself into my posts as I am the bands and the places and the products that I am writing about. And you can’t get more personal than a pair of glasses, really: if, like me, you struggle with contact lenses you’d be literally lost without them. If we’re talking in person, and I’m wearing my new IOLLA glasses, they’ll be the windows to our conversation. But it’s cool, because I could not be prouder to be an ambassador for this innovative Scottish brand.
And I reckon the feedback I’ve had, online and off, about IOLLA shows that I’m not alone in thinking that what they do addresses a real need: for stylish, beautifully-made eyewear that’s an extension of your personal style, and at a price that makes that possible.
I got my first pair of glasses when I was eight years old: a red, full-frame, plastic pair that I wore until they fell apart. Literally: it happened in school, and I had to tape the lens in with sellotape or I’d never have been able to get home. At the time I loathed them, but I bet if I still had them now I’d be coordinating my lipstick to match.
I see glasses as being a little bit like shoes: I have to wear them, so I might as well have some fun with them. Unfortunately I’m pretty short-sighted as well as having astigmatism, meaning that my vision is distorted due to my eye being shaped closer to a rugby ball than a football, so purchasing glasses has always been an expensive ask. If my prescription has changed by the time my biannual sight test rolls around I’ll generally bite the bullet and head for Specsavers, whose regular buy-one-get-one-free offer doesn’t cover the cost of thinning down my lenses so I don’t have to look like Hans Moleman every day (srsly guys, I’d happily pay the £85 for a second pair if you just included everything in the listed price). Mixing it up a bit is simply not affordable, and for a girl who has been known to match her eyeshadow to her underwear that’s heartbreaking.
This was exactly what Stefan Hunter and Brian McGuire, the Glasgow-based entrepreneurs behind IOLLA (it means “to see” in Gaelic, in a nod to their company’s Scottish roots) wanted to address with their company. As Stefan, introducing the company at the launch event, said: you don’t go to a podiatrist to buy shoes, so why should you be forced to buy your glasses from an optician, with the accompanying confusing upsells and high price? For them, the solution was simple: an online alternative, but with an offline showroom giving you the chance to see what the frames look like in person before committing to purchase. A collection concentrating on 27 styles – each one named after a famous Scot – in a variety of colours, made from a single sheet a premium acetate to ensure production efficiency. And a single price point: £65 for frame, single-vision lenses with anti-reflective and anti-scratch coating, leather carry case and home delivery. You’ll pay a little more for multi-focus, or super-thin lenses if your prescription is above or below about the 7 mark, but such is the nature of the beast.
IOLLA are not opticians, so you’ll need an up-to-date prescription before you can order, but once you’ve done so you can upload it onto their website (by simply taking a picture of it, if you’re using your smartphone) and order online. That said, I’d strongly recommend you pop along to the showroom if you can for a chilled, laidback shopping experience, advice from IOLLA’s fun, friendly staff and a wee coffee or juice from their “honesty bar”. They make it easy enough to spend an afternoon there – I should know, I almost did..!
After much deliberation, I opted for the Telford style in purple crystal*: a neat, compact frame that combines ease of wear with a pop of one of my favourite colours. Each style is available in three or four colour variants, can be made as glasses or sunglasses and most are sold as unisex (and I can’t imagine there would be any problem if you fancied one of the others. The quality is obvious from the minute you put them on: think springy hinges and titanium-tipped legs, with the IOLLA logo etched into them even though it’s hidden behind your ears. And as a particularly charming wee extra, my glasses came with a keyring made from the piece of acetate cut out at the bridge (although I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have been given somebody else’s).
What’s your verdict on my new specs? And what do you think of the IOLLA concept?
DISCLAIMER: This post contains a PR sample obviously, but all opinions are honest and my own. See my full disclosure policy. Thanks to IOLLA, Betty & Bee, Deliveroo and #BlackT for an excellent launch event.