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Ombraz Origin Story

Posted by Nikolai Paloni on

Hey Ombraz Familia,

Ombraz Cofounder Jensen here! Ever wonder how Ombraz came to be?

Our story just aired on a short segment of NPR’s, How I Built This! Guy Raz told us it was one of his favorite brand stories he’s covered. If you have 4 minutes, give it a listen here, or check out the full story below!

Sunglasses always frustrated me, and I rarely wore them.

In 2012, I was living in India for a year. I bought a pair of unique, aviator-ish sunglasses with a distinct bridge design from a boutique optical shop in Delhi before heading out on a 5 day camel Safari in the Thar Desert. Sunglasses would be crucial. A mere few hours into the expedition, *SNAP, someone sat on my sunglasses and, like what had happened to me countless times before, the sidearms broke off. I remembered a quick fix my brother had used for a makeshift fix on a pair of broken sunglasses during a NOLS course in Mexico. I took a piece of twine, tied it around the broken hinges and wrapped the twine around the back of my head. I couldn’t believe how well they worked. They didn’t slip down my nose, they were secure yet more comfortable and when I didn’t need them on, I could drop them around my neck or throw them in my pocket without worrying about breaking them. 

I came back to the states, replaced the twine with a leather cord, and wore that same pair of macgyvered sunglasses for 5 years - through college. This is coming from a guy who loses his wallet once a week folks. These things were just more practical for me.

Friends and peers non-stop asked for their own armless sunglasses. Nikolai, a good friend from college, was one of those people.

Everyone has lost, broken or felt pain on the sides of their head from a pair of sunglasses.

2016.

Through good fortune and a mutual passion to create and build, Nikolai and I decided to team up and solve this problem. For our first model, we would use the exact same look of the original frame from my Indian escapades. We spent 2 years developing the perfect attachment, designing components, meeting manufacturers in Asia and masterminding the Ombraz brand - practical, simple and carbon-negative.

Since day 1 we have focused on building a brand with a net-positive environmental impact. We plant 20 trees for every pair of Ombraz we sell, making Ombraz 330X carbon negative. No other product offsets more carbon than a pair of Ombraz. Our net-positive impact is the only way we would find it acceptable to conduct business.

We brought on a graphic designer, Greg Quist, who previously held positions as lead creative for Tommy Bahama and The North Face. Greg has been instrumental in developing our brand aesthetic and overall direction. He is incredibly talented.

What should we name the brand? I pondered for months, relentlessly. Jensuns? Ecojos? Lüps? We liked the word ‘Ombra.’ It means shade in Italian. Sunglasses are shades. We provide shade for your eyes, and shade for degraded landscapes. Ombraz was available on Instagram and Ombraz.com was an unregistered URL. I jumped on it and bought Ombraz.com. A bot automatically snagged @Ombraz on Instagram - I still have a bone to pick with GoDaddy for this one. So Ombraz it was and @Ombrazsunglasses it would have to be.

The cord was the critical piece to our armless sunglasses design. It had to be soft enough to never bother you, but rigid enough to keep the sunglasses secure without needing them cranked down around your head. It had to be light, yet elegant when it came to aesthetics. We weren’t trying to re-write fashion and design something that stood out. The whole of premise of Ombraz is the fact that you don’t really notice anything is different when you have them on. From the side, the cord looks like a sidearm, and in the back the cord blends with your hairline.

Nikolai and I spent a year shooting content - pictures and video. And planning for our launch.

We launched Ombraz through a successful crowdfunding campaign in Spring 2018, where we raised over $200K in pre-orders. The goal of our crowdfunding video was to entertain and catch people’s attention - not just sit in front of a white board and bore you with company goals. If you haven’t seen our video, check it out! It’s worth three minutes of your time. Guy Raz said it was the best crowdfunding video he had ever seen.

Our crowdfunding campaign ended and we ordered all of our components. 6000 meters of cord, 6000 beads and 3000 frames and lenses arrived at Ombraz HQ in September 2018. We had no assembly team, no scalable business model and no insulation in our barn office as we hand-assembled 3000 pre-ordered sunglasses into the Seattle Winter.

Assembly was grueling and trivial, it took Nikolai and I three months. PTSD is a real thing. With the help of friends working with us until 2am each night, parents and grandparents, we delivered the first ever Ombraz to backers in November 2018. People absolutely LOVED them.

2019.

Two months after delivering, we won Backpacker Magazine’s Gear Editor’s Choice Award and Sunglass of the Year from Gear Junkie. After the awards were announced, REI reached out to us, we launched with them in March, as well as with Huckberry & Moosejaw.

In January 2019 we moved assembly to Asia where we’ve built out a team and coordinated the assembly of another 8k units. Our Utility Patents were just approved by the US Patent Office and Ombraz armless design is now fully patented.

We absolutely love building this company. We stand behind our product (literally, we inspect every pair) and we love developing a product that people not only want, but need. 

We credit much of our success to the mentors and people we have sought out for advice and tactics as we steer the metaphorical ship that is Ombraz. I cannot stress this enough, how we, as well as most entrepreneurs, don’t really know what we are doing. It is the people we talk to, who have experience, who have failed and learned from their mistakes, that we turn to to bestow wisdom on us. It is up to us to digest then pick and choose the right advice to navigate the uncharted waters. We are incredibly thankful for our mentors, partners and customers who have invested their time and energy to help us. It has been invaluable to us.

As we build Ombraz from the ground up, we invite you to follow along and get involved. We will be organizing a habitat restoration project with Patagonia Seattle in Spring 2020. If you’re in the area, we’d love for you to join. More details to come. If you’ve read this far, we’re very impressed. 


Stay tuned for holiday deals coming soon!


Cheers from the Ombraz team,
Jensen & Nikolai
Ombraz Cofounders