Stirling Barrett has a keen eye for design that’s intrinsic to personal aesthetic. As a creative, he’s interested in how things look, but as the founder of eyeglass company KREWE, he’s invested in how things feel. That feeling ranges from how a customer feels in KREWE to the care felt in KREWE Foundation—a charitable section of the company that provides free eye exams and glasses to kids in the city.
Recently, the New Orleans-based brand has collaborated with names like Billy Reid and Reformation, as well as created plant-based and bio-plastic frames for a more sustainable future. And for locals and travelers that love KREWE, there’s SUN__DAYS—a members-only weekend courtyard space with a pool, infrared saunas, wellness classes, a curated beverage program, and more.
Whitewall spoke with Barrett about his journey in design, what the brand’s working on next, and about the inspiration and appreciation found in KREWE’s backyard.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your background leading up to the foundation of KREWE.
STIRLING BARRETT: I was a photographer for years before I even thought about starting KREWE. I’ve always had a keen eye for design, and I studied fine arts at the Meadows School in my time at Southern Methodist University. Back in 2012, I won Best in Show at Jazz Fest for my work, which awarded me a generous monetary prize that I used to bootstrap KREWE.
WW: What do you aim to bring to the market with KREWE?
SB: We’ve always been oriented around design, and the idea that eyewear can be something fun and playful and experimental. We aspire to create iconic silhouettes that you can feel good in, but that you can also have fun wearing and styling.
WW: Each year, at the beginning of Novemeber, KREWE hosts an event called Fête. Can you tell us a bit more about your recent one?
SB: Fête is our chance to gather all of our wholesale accounts, favorite local artists and musicians, friends of the brand, and press partners to spend a weekend immersed in all things New Orleans. We dined on cuisine from esteemed local chefs and enjoyed some stellar musical performances at the historic Felicity Church and Preservation Hall. All the proceeds from the weekend’s ticket sales went directly to our KREWE Foundation, which provides free eye exams and prescription glasses to public high schoolers in the city.
WW: Can you walk us through the design process of creating a pair of glasses?
SB: It all starts with the inspiration, whether that’s the juxtaposition of our local architecture and natural environment, the palette of colors found in New Orleans, or an actual vintage frame we stumble upon. Then we head to the design studio, put on a country music playlist, and get straight to work.
WW: You recently collaborated with fellow Southerner Billy Reid on six new styles. Tell us a bit about that.
SB: The vision for the Billy Reid collection was to bring our two Southern brands together to create this portfolio of everlasting pieces, built to transcend generations. Each shape is inspired by timeless vintage styles, but our renditions give them a modern edge that’s refreshing and super wearable.
WW: How does being based in New Orleans inspire you and the brand?
SB: KREWE has always been strongly rooted in the city. I grew up here, so my mission was to create a high-fashion brand from New Orleans, inspired by New Orleans, for a global audience. The design of each frame draws inspiration from the city—most of our frames are named after streets and neighborhoods in NOLA. It’s those details that have really stayed constant throughout the brand’s growth and expansion, and that long-time KREWE fans as well as newcomers to the brand can recognize and appreciate.
WW: Where else have you been recently that’s given you inspiration?
SB: Recently I’ve had the chance to spend some time in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, and I have come to find a lot of parallels between these places and New Orleans. Both are very oriented around design and culture, though expressed in very different ways. There’s a sense of heritage, of being a port city, of a sense of pride and resilience among those who live there that I think is really going to inform how we continue to tell our story to a global audience.
WW: Sustainability is becoming a big focus for both consumers and brands. Tell us a bit about how you’re thinking about this when designing.
SB: We use a plant-based cellulose acetate in most of our designs—excluding the all-metal frames, of course. Our collaboration with Reformation was a huge step for us in terms of sustainability, as each of the frames in that collection was 100 percent biodegradable, so that has definitely set the tone for how we can look to manufacture in the future. Our ACTIVE collection of performance eyewear that debuted earlier this year speaks to that, as well, with the bio-plastic frames being made with 50 percent by-product waste.
WW: What are you working on now?
SB: The eyewear industry works on a timeline that’s 8 to 9 months in advance, so we’re currently placing orders on fresh designs for next fall and starting work on product designs that’ll be rolling out in 2022. We’re also making moves right now to prepare for our expansion into the European market, for 2020 and beyond.