Vi­sion Quest

Derek De­sierto thought he’d left the eyewear in­dus­try be­hind, but Friendly Uni­verse pulled him back in.

Fashion (Canada) - - The Market | People - By Lesa Han­nah

Six years ago, while I was shop­ping in New York City, a wo­man fol­lowed me from Madewell to Bloom­ing­dale’s to ask me where I’d got­ten my over­sized tor­toise­shell cat-eye glasses. It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked by strangers about my Derek Cardi­gan frames, but it was def­i­nitely the most ef­fort any­one had made to find out where they were from. The de­signer be­hind my specs is Derek De­sierto, who is also no stranger to get­ting no­ticed. At 23, be­cause of his per­sonal style, he was pulled out of the cus­tomer ser­vice depart­ment at Clearly to de­sign an in-house line of glasses for the com­pany. “I think some­times when you’re young and you don’t know, you’re like ‘I can do it. I got this,’” De­sierto re­calls of ris­ing to the chal­lenge, sit­ting in his of­fice in Van­cou­ver. He had dropped out of his col­lege’s de­sign pro­gram but sketched a col­lec­tion of 10 frames in­spired by vin­tage shapes. The name Derek Cardi­gan was bor­rowed from his il­lus­tra­tion blog. The line was launched in 2010, and Clearly sold more than 100,000 pairs within three years. De­spite be­ing handed this “once in a life­time op­por­tu­nity,” De­sierto left Clearly in 2013. “I still had this burn­ing de­sire to do art,” he says of his de­ci­sion to go back to school. But just as he was about to start a new gig in an­i­ma­tion this past Jan­uary, Roger Hardy, his former CEO at Clearly (who had also left the com­pany), reached out to him about launch­ing a new line of eyewear. “My first re­ac­tion was ‘Do not ask me to quit my job; I just got it,’” says De­sierto. But when he saw the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a brand with “a soul” and de­sign glasses that could be mean­ing­ful, the now 32-year-old changed his mind.

Friendly Uni­verse, which takes its name from De­sierto’s old In­sta­gram han­dle, will kick off this month with 15 frames on its web­site. Cit­ing the trans­parency of Ever­lane and phi­lan­thropy of Toms as in­spi­ra­tions, the brand will high­light real peo­ple who are “do­ing some­thing to cre­ate a friend­lier uni­verse” in its cam­paigns. Each per­son will choose a style to model, and a por­tion of the sales of that style will go to a char­ity of their choice. “It’s not enough to just make a cool prod­uct any­more,” says Caitlin Shee­han, brand direc­tor at Friendly Uni­verse. “You need to know that you are do­ing the right thing for peo­ple and the planet.” Man­u­fac­tur­ing will be done in the United States, Italy or Ja­pan, us­ing eco-friendly ma­te­ri­als, and the frames will be mod­er­ately priced.

De­sign-wise, Friendly Uni­verse will ex­pand be­yond what De­sierto did with Derek Cardi­gan, though geeky thicker frames— which he says he can’t ever es­cape—will still have a place. “I love clas­sic styles,” he says, “but I re­ally want that mix—more whimsy and fun,” which will come through in the ma­te­ri­als, colours and shapes. As if De­sierto wasn’t busy enough, he’s still sketch­ing. That’s how former beauty edi­tor Eva Chen, head of fash­ion part­ner­ships at In­sta­gram, no­ticed him. She saw a draw­ing he had posted of her and her daugh­ter on his ac­count and asked him to il­lus­trate her chil­dren’s book, Juno Valen­tine, out in Novem­ber. It was a full-cir­cle mo­ment for De­sierto, whose love of the cat­e­gory dates back to his col­lege days when he worked as a kids’ book spe­cial­ist at Indigo. It also sounds like the Filipino seer who saw De­sierto as a child was right when she pre­dicted that he was go­ing to live a very charmed ex­is­tence. “Every­thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my life is hap­pen­ing,” he says.

SUN­GLASSES FROM THE FRIENDLY UNI­VERSE PER­MA­NENT COL­LEC­TION, WORN BY ES­THER MAVAMBU, FRIEND OF THE BRAND

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