Bright Lights

Kalah Siegel | October 3, 2016 | Feature Features National

The co-founders behind William Painter eyewear open up about crowdsourcing, the importance of consumer feedback and their newest frame, The Level.
Patrick Eckstein (left) dons William Painter's The Level sunglasses ($145), while Steven Dempsey rocks The Hughes ($165).

Before mastering crowdfunding and adding new optics to a line of popular titanium sunglasses, it was simply about SoCal necessities for William Painter: sturdy shades and a cold (preferably craft) brew. At least, that’s what co-founders Steven Dempsey and Patrick Eckstein had in mind when they created an eyeglasses/bottle opener hybrid for the notorious Cal Poly SLO ski team back in 2012. Based in Pacific Beach, the startup tapped San Diego State’s Racing Formula Society of Engineers to help conceive their original design. “We needed something ultrasturdy,” explains 33-year-old Eckstein. “We [were tasked] to make glasses that would open bottles and we [tested] every material you can imagine—alloy, aluminum, tin—but ended up with titanium, the lightest-weight material that can open bottles and not scratch.” The upshot was an elegant yet near-indestructible prototype that became the William Painter staple, The Hook ($145)—a slick wayfarer frame with chiseled temples meant to also act as a cap opener.

The outdoorsman-approved sunnies were hardly the pair’s biggest challenge. Their next task was adopting the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter during the site’s formative years to grow the business. “It was like the Wild West,” says Eckstein, who’s now the brand’s CMO. Still, they prevailed, reaching their monthlong funding goal in just 24 hours.

The next hurdle? Mass-producing The Hook—an endeavor that took the duo around the world and back (Shanghai escapades included) in a hunt to find high-end suppliers and manufacturers that could meet William Painter’s intricate quality control standards. Once backed by the best materials and factories around, the accessory was quickly championed by notables like Will Ferrell, Lupe Fiasco and more.

Today, the e-commerce brand boasts eight styles, most recently The Level ($145), which just hit the market this August. The new specs cater to men who are after a larger and boxier frame—a departure for the brand. “We’ve gained intimate knowledge of our customer base through the ability to have direct communication on various online platforms,” explains 28-year-old CEO Dempsey. “The Level has already [achieved] success because it features the lines and angles our consumers told us they wanted.” After four years tirelessly sculpting this direct-to-consumer business model, they now have other brands turning to them for advice. Level up, indeed!

Buying local, customer service, ice cream socials

“One-time-use” anything, energy drinks, hotel coffee

Apparel courtsey of John Varvatos Fashion Valley; shot on location at Kettner Exchange


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