Lapima Sells Not Just Eyewear but a Brazilian Dreamscape to Enjoy Open-eyed

MILAN — The bubbly and joyful spirit of Brazilian culture trickles down to the colorful and flamboyant eyewear designs by Lapima, a niche brand based out of the South American country that has embraced a slow-business approach that appears to be paying off.

Now with a new collection, dubbed Atelier, of prescription frames hinged on handcrafted, horn-made styles, the brand is making an even higher-end push, trying to scale within the sizable niche of eyewear fans tired of fashion brands’ designs but who are still willing to nab a pair of 2,000-euro frames.

Founded in Campinas, Brazil, in the outskirts of São Paulo, Lapima’s cofounder and designer Gustavo Assis likes to call the brand a “two-year pregnancy project,” which eventually saw the light in 2016 when, together with life and business partner Gisela Assis, an in-house atelier was finally set up.

Colorful acetate worked into sinuous shapes, oftentimes oversize and most often reading off-duty diva, is Lapima’s key style ethos.

“We aim to be trendsetters,” Gustavo Assis said. “I don’t want to be the best brand of last summer, right? My aim is to be the hot brand for next fall,” he said. “That’s why we tend to do what competitors are not doing right now. We want to be avant-garde. That’s the main idea that has always pushed me, to offer what people didn’t have before.”

It’s also about taking the brand’s Brazilian roots and flair to the world, he offered. “Brazil is all about color, fluid lines and this sensuality that the Brazilians have, the modernist architecture that we have. Those are all the inspirations that come from our DNA. I mean, we have this Brazilian touch,” he explained.

Cue the fancy names given, for example, to colorways including the newly introduced “Margarita” yellow and “Spritz” orange seen in the spring 2024 collection that was unveiled at eyewear trade fair Mido in Milan earlier this year and splashed on the cat-eyed aviator Julia style, as well as the chunky Nina model that nods to the ’50s.

The Lapima ad campaign for spring 2024

The Lapima ad campaign for spring 2024.

Courtesy of Lapima

Jumpstarting the brand was no easy feat, the couple contended.

Brazil, and Campinas particularly, had a decent eyewear manufacturing heritage until the 1980s, subsequently swept away as global competition to find cheaper manufacturing locations heated up, often to the detriment of quality.

“We were trying to find the right partner and to produce our sunglasses, and it took us almost two years to develop a good partnership, but then in the end, we [realized] no one could [really] produce what we were designing,” Gustavo Assis said.

Too little control over prototyping and industrialization convinced the couple to go solo, despite lacking formal training in product design or manufacturing. Gustavo Assis ran fashion boutiques in São Paulo and neighboring second-tier cities, while his wife Gisela, a trained professional dancer, was working in marketing in the pharmaceutical sector.

After quitting their jobs, they chased their dream and have built a 3 million euro business, which in 2024 they expect will grow by double digits.

“We found a lot of machines at the junkyard….We bought them and did refurbishment without really knowing what and if it was going to work or not,” he explained.

Since its founding Lapima’s key ambition has been to meet high-quality standards, which they achieved with handmade frames crafted using premium cellulosic acetate imported from Italy — as are the lenses — manufactured at the in-house atelier by the roughly 20 artisans who the company says are “at the heart of the business.”

A Lapima artisan at work on the Atelier Collection

A Lapima artisan at work on the Atelier collection.

Courtesy of Lapima

It took Lapima about four years to find its footing in the sector, one marked by increased polarization and competition. After unveiling eyewear to the first global audience during Paris Fashion Week in 2017, the brand scored deals with fashion and concept stores, including pre-bankruptcy Barneys New York as well as The Webster, among others.

Like many of their up-and-coming and niche peers, they had to find alternative routes to build a footprint beyond the tight-knit optician network.

“We got into the market through the fashion shops and concept stores, which was very nice. It was the best idea [also because] it took us a while to develop the optical collections,” Gustavo Assis said, pointing out that the latter are pivotal to lure opticians.

Ahead of the pandemic, optical frames made their way into Lapima’s collections and became a business boon. “Optical frames enhance the credibility for your sunglasses business, too, because if you can produce good prescription eyewear, it’s a sign of high quality,” Gustavo Assis explained.

After growing their international footprint in countries such as France and the U.S., Lapima provided a luxury treatment to its prescription glasses, introducing a new higher-end collection of buffalo horn-made designs under the Atelier moniker.

Lapima's Nina Petit horn-made optical frames

Lapima’s Nina Petit horn-made optical frames.

Courtesy of Lapima

They are one-of-a-kind, Gisela Assis explained. “These pieces are produced by one artisan in our atelier. The most experienced one is called Ademir [Ildefonso]. So he chooses the horn, follows the hydration [process] for two months with moisturizing and boiling and then he starts working on the piece…it’s a very slow process, very cultural, unique and special,” she said.

These frames retail at 2,000 euros compared to the average price tag of 500 euros for cellulosic acetate designs. They come in special high-end, leather packaging made by an artisan based a stone’s throw away from the Lapima atelier.

“I believe this is the collection that puts us in the cultural place where we want to be because all our acetates are also made by hand, but we produce a lot of them so it’s a bit harder to make people understand the craftsmanship that goes into those. This is really where we can point out our positioning,” she offered.

Lapima's founders Gustavo and Gisela Assis.

Lapima’s founders Gustavo and Gisela Assis.

Courtesy of Lapima

Europe represents a strong business driver for Lapima, which Gisela Assis attributed to locals’ understanding of cutting-edge design regardless of brands and logos. The company has recently approached new markets as well, securing new doors in Japan, South Korea, Dubai and Kuwait.

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