By JoAnne Sommers
As an optical retailer in his hometown of Minneapolis in the early ‘90s, Spencer saw a need for finely crafted, affordable frames designed to fit smaller faces. After searching unsuccessfully for a collection that met this need, he decided to fill it himself.
“For some time, I’d been sending frame designs to my suppliers,” says Spencer. “I knew that with my drawing skills and sensibility, I could design my own frames.”
Armed with nothing more than a concept and a pad of paper, he began sketching frames and shopping his idea around to various factories. In 1997, he launched the Ogi Eyewear Heritage Collection, consisting of 15 unique styles in five colours. His design approach combined small, refined shapes with bright colours to produce a line featuring modern finesse and unique craftsmanship.
The collection was unlike anything else in the market and the response was instantly favourable. Spencer says that when it debuted at Vision Expo East, Ogi’s booth was beset by a feeding frenzy of hungry buyers.
“We were in the worst location imaginable, in the back corner, near the bathrooms. While I was setting up, a designer from the booth next to me said we would be lucky to sell one piece. In fact, it was one of the busiest shows I have ever done. We were so full that someone actually came up and asked what I was giving away for free.”
Building on that initial success, Ogi introduced several new collections, featuring larger-size frames and new styles annually.
“One of our goals is to have a frame that fits and flatters every face,” says Spencer. “Finding the perfect frame for your face is exciting and the more people we are able to fit, the more we can grow.”
Ogi has added three collections to its Heritage Collection: Ogi Kids transforms the company’s stylish adult frames into smaller styles for tomorrow’s trendsetters. The Seraphin Collection revives classic, vintage shapes with modern, nature-inspired colours for a neoclassical look. Innotec, Ogi’s newest collection, is designed for the sleek, modern individual, with extremely lightweight frames created with a new and unique technology.
“We focus on innovation, originality, quality and value,” Spencer explains. “The spirit of Ogi is fresh, contemporary flair and classic-with-a-twist.”
One of the company’s key philosophies is a constant release of new products, he adds. “People are always looking for something new and Ogi never disappoints them.”
Spencer learned a lot about how to treat customers from his father, Alan, a long-time doctor of optometry in St. Paul, MN.
“The most valuable thing he taught me was to have a high level of integrity. Treat customers and patients with respect and honesty and good things will happen to you.”
The elder Spencer also foresaw his son’s career in frame design. “My dad always said I would some day be a frame designer. As a child, while everyone else was outside playing, I was inside drawing. I also spent a lot of time helping out at my father’s optical shop.Frames came unassembled back then and I sat in the back of the store and assembled the black tops with silver bottoms and red sides, then hand painted the details.”
Today, David spends most of his time drawing frames for the coming season, along with selecting new materials and colours for those already in production. Each frame starts with a pencil drawing, he says.
“When I sit down to draw, I might have a specific face shape in mind or I might just put pencil to paper and see what happens. It really varies from day to day.”
Spencer draws inspiration from, impressive, “seemingly impossible” architecture that challenges the mind. “I am intrigued by architecture that makes me think, ‘How did they do that?’ ”
As examples, he cites the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which cantilevers over Hennepin Avenue, and the inventive structure of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. “They are iconic examples of incredible, functional architecture,” he says.
Spencer is quick to credit Ogi’s team of 40 employees at its Minneapolis headquarters and hundreds of sales representatives around North America for the company’s success.
“A successful business takes everything – good customer service, good sales, marketing, etc. At some point, I realized I didn’t have the inclination to be a businessman because I just wanted to design frames. It wasn’t until I connected with my three business partners that the puzzle was complete. I wouldn’t be nearly where I am today without the entire team.”
When he’s not designing frames, David loves spending time with his family, including his Welsh terrier, Monty. “I am a huge dog lover and Monty will definitely attest to that,” he laughs.