Pumpkin seed oil is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the Austrian province of Styria. Green mountain pastures, meadows and hiking trails are the images that come to mind - after all, Styria is called the "green province of Austria". In any case, hardly anyone thinks of a flourishing industrial landscape - but that is deceptive. The green province produces microchips, car parts and metal goods. It is also home to one of the world's largest green tech clusters - and eyewear brand Andy Wolf, which began its triumphal march into the world from right there.
Andy Wolf is the eyewear label that has become internationally renowned thanks to Rihanna and the micro shades trend and is now sold in 69 countries worldwide - from Alaska to South Korea. It was established in 2006 with the purchase of an old, existing eyewear factory in Hartberg in Styria. The two founders of the eyewear brand - Andreas Pirkheim (Andy) and Wolfgang Scheucher (Wolf) - as well as a third co-founder who is no longer active in the operative business, took over the employees who manufactured eyewear from acetate according to traditional craftsmanship. Everything made by hand in Austria, for over 70 years.
The catch: Acetate - a raw material made from hardened cotton flakes - was not at all popular for glasses at the time. But the founders foresaw today's trend and began manufacturing the first prototype collection in 2006. This was well received, so that in 2008 the first international sales partners sprang up. "Our biggest USP is that we manufacture the glasses ourselves - from the design to the prototypes to the finished product," says Andy. The glasses are meticulously cut, ground and polished for days in drums with ceramic balls and soft wood in various sizes until they leave the production facility for specialised retailers. A pair of glasses can involve up to 90 production steps. In 2016, a second factory was opened in the French Jura, where the knowledge about the production of metal glasses has been passed on for centuries. This factory, too, was about to be shut down before Andy Wolf bought it. Once again, the label had successfully predicted a trend - namely the strengthening of metal frames. Andy Wolf quickly won its first prominent fans when Eric Clapton, Hugh Grant and even Lady Gaga were photographed with a pair of Andy Wolfs on their noses.
The celebrity accolade came in 2017: Rihana's stylist was looking for a tiny white pair of sunglasses for the red carpet in Cannes. "We had neither tiny nor white sunglasses," recalls Peter Klotz, head of communication at the brand. The stylist said: "You have these reading glasses. Make them white sunglasses and I'll put them on Rihanna. You have one and a half days." For a brand producing in China, this would have been an impossible ultimatum - the delivery alone would take a day. But a label based in Austria could accept the challenge.
Two days later, the momentous call came, as Peter Klotz reports. "It was late on a Friday night, my cell phone rang and I had no idea what it was about." But the caller persisted. It was the stylist who confirmed that Rihanna was sitting in the limousine with her sunglasses on. Fearful minutes: Would she take them off at the last minute? No. Rihanna kept the newly created sunglasses ‘Ojala’ on and started a veritable sunglasses trend - the so-called micro shades. This catapulted Andy Wolf into the limelight and the public view. Since then, the Styrian company has fans like Gigi and Bella Hadid, Caro Daur, Cate Blanchett and Oprah Winfrey. At the same time, it was voted one of the most sought-after labels worldwide by American Vogue. "For a small brand, that's a big thing that such an international star can trigger. The next day, the glasses were featured online at the American Vogue and the day after that, Opening Ceremony announced that they would like to order them," recounts Peter.
Though the exact figures of the sales effect remain confidential, "but the increase in visibility of the brand is also extremely valuable,” says Andy. At Andy Wolf in Hartberg, quality and craftsmanship continue to be the key factors.
Portrait image: Markus Mansi Moma; campaign images: Elizaveta Porodina
This article was originally published on FashionUnited DE. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss