When Stirling Barrett decided to go all-in on his idea for a new kind of eyewear company based in his hometown of New Orleans six years ago, he had no idea that it would grow to the heights it has reached.
For, in fact, Barrett completely self-funded the business through money he had saved up for a down payment on a house. He humbly began hawking his Krewe sunglasses out of a cart at festivals and quickly grew the business through pop-ups, becoming a finalist in the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund in 2016, and attracting a celebrity following from the likes of Beyoncé, Adam Driver, and Meghan Markle.
Fast forward to today and the company remains privately owned and boasts an annual growth of at least 50 percent year-over-year. Krewe currently has a strong wholesale arm as well as two brick-and-mortar shops of its own in New Orleans, one in Austin, and one in New York, with more planned for the future. It also boasts a sprawling two-story 14,798 square-foot headquarters built inside of an old warehouse at 1020 Thalia Street in the Lower Garden District of the Big Easy. And with that new headquarters, comes the amenities every Millennial dreams about in a work culture – kombucha and cold brew coffee on tap, plenty of space to lounge outside to get inspired, and….a pool.
As envious one may be of this idyllic company culture, Krewe takes great efforts to share its success with the people of New Orleans. In 2018, Barrett launched The Krewe Foundation which aims to provide local, in-need high school students with free prescription lenses and simultaneously foster a sense of community within New Orleans. In its second year, the Foundation hosts a charity event every November as part of the company’s Krewe Fete Weekend. Dubbed Foundation Day, this year’s event featured a sampling of cuisine from local restaurants, a concert of only duets, and an afterparty with proceeds going directly to help the Foundation. Every $150 VIP ticket to the event provides five New Orleans high school students with eye exams and prescription eyewear.
And, as part of Krewe Fete Weekend, the brand encourages its wholesale clients to descend onto its NOLA headquarters for a more intimate experience for their buying appointments. While Krewe still participates in trade shows, Barrett feels that this way of doing business is not only more personal but also gives buyers more knowledge and ways to promote the brand to the end consumer through panel discussions and workshops with industry experts. (One of this year’s key speakers was Billy Reid, who launched his first eyewear collection this fall in partnership with Krewe.)
This sense of community is also seen through a program called SUN___DAYS. Created for locals and travelers alike, the concept is a members-driven weekend space that revolves around the sun. While this program is hosted poolside at Krewe’s headquarters, it is not run by or managed by the brand. In fact, SUN__DAYS is operated by LeBlanc + Smith, a boutique New Orleans-based restaurant and bar group. The concept revolves around balance and wellness by offering restorative amenities like infrared saunas, a heated or chilled pool with wellness classes, and curated beverage programs.
So, even after accomplishing and offering all of this to New Orleans and beyond, we can’t help but wonder what’s next for Krewe. Barrett says that the company is focusing on three things for 2020. “One: Culture. It’s something we’re always working and iterating on,” he tells MR. “It’s our shared way of doing things. Two: Social Impact. We’re making sure the Krewe Foundation continues to grow and thrive at the same pace as the brand. Three: Focus. We are laser-focusing on our three lines — sun, ophthalmic and active — and are excited to continue to evolve and create more compelling reasons to be a part of the Krewe.”