SOLO Eyewear was born in California in 2011. An initial idea by Jenny Amaranei, it has now become a partnership between herself and Dana Holliday, and a company rooted in humanitarian work, passion, fashion, and eye care. These young entrepreneurs were kind enough to sit down with us here at The Modern Career Girl to talk business … with a dash of fashion and food, of course!
Name(s): Dana Holliday & Jenny Amaraneni
Ages: 24 and 28, respectively
Location: San Diego, Calif.
Education: San Diego State University; Louisiana State University & San Diego State University
Quote to live by:
Dana: “… have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steve Jobs
Jenny: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” -Marianne Williamson
The company is in its third year now, but tell us how SOLO eyewear started.
Dana: We [Jenny and I] were working together at the Entrepreneurial Management Center on campus when she shared the idea with me. I volunteered to use the concept for SOLO Eyewear as a project for my senior portfolio and information graphics classes. During this first semester, Jenny worked hard on forming SOLO Eyewear as a legitimate business, developing a unique product line and locating manufacturers. I spent this time forming the visual foundation for the company by developing the logo, website, packaging and original supporting graphics for SOLO Eyewear
Jenny: The concept for SOLO Eyewear came out of a classroom at SDSU. I was reading Paul Polak’s Out of Poverty and learned about the need for eye care in the world. It wasn’t until learning about this great need in the world that I realized how blessed I am to own a pair of glasses/contacts. One billion people do not have access to eye care and 80% of the world’s blindness is preventable. This was a call to action. SOLO Eyewear was born.
What’s the process that you use for selecting the “people in need of eye care?”
Dana: We realized early on that managing both sides of our business model would be near impossible. In order to fulfill our giving component, we’ve formed strategic partnerships with three non-profits who are making incredible strides in diminishing preventable blindness worldwide. One being Restoring Vision, based in Oakland, Calif., who manufactures and distributes prescription eyeglasses at a nominal fee to groups going both domestically and internationally to serve the underprivileged. Our other two partners are leaders in the eye care industry, specifically cataract surgeries. LV Prasad Eye Institute and Aravind Eye Care Institute are able to treat cataracts for as little as $15 to $40, and in as little as 5 minutes!
Jenny: The latter two are based in India and we work with them to fund cataract surgeries for people in need. Through their networks, Restoring Vision distributes SOLO-funded eyeglasses to other organizations in need. We have restored vision for over 3,000 people in need across 19 countries.
We turn to our non-profit partners to determine who is most in need of eye care. They are the experts in the field.
So what’s the collaboration process like between the two of you?
Dana: It’s such an interesting collaboration between us because we come from very different backgrounds. Jenny studied business and entrepreneurship intensively, and I went to school for the arts, specifically, graphic design. This makes for a really great partnership between us.
We come into situations with very different perspectives and are able to blend our thinking to come up with ideas that are both strategic and outside the box. We’re business partners, friends, and roommates—so we have a very close relationship. We’re constantly brainstorming day and night, bouncing ideas off one another to take every challenge and idea to the next level, making sure we’ve come at the best solution by analyzing every possible outcome.
Has social media played a part in developing the brand of SOLO Eyewear? If yes, how so?
Dana: Social media has played a huge role in branding our company. We’ve been able to really communicate our company’s personality and core values through social media content. We’re able to quickly and easily communicate events, contests, promotions, news, etc. by simply posting it through Facebook and Twitter.
During our Kickstarter campaign last spring, it was incredible to see the power of social media in action. Our friends, families and fans were sharing our story with their social networks who, in turn, shared it with their social networks, and so on. We suddenly had access to thousands, if not millions, of people through these social channels.
Jenny: Absolutely. Social media has allowed us to build a tightly knit community of fans who believe in what we are doing and wholeheartedly support us. We engage daily with our fans and leverage social media to keep them up to date with our progress and promotions, educate them about the need for eye care in the world and, most importantly, interact with them. Our fans mean the world to us! Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube, we can stay in touch every day, 24/7.
Do you both wear glasses? Can you recall your first memory of not being able to see well?
Dana: I wear a minor prescription for distance, but recently had strabismus surgery to correct the alignment of my eyes. Growing up I had a muscle in my eye that didn’t work, and therefore caused my eyes to misalign when I was tired, or looking in a certain direction. It wasn’t until I was older that someone educated me on this problem. I had no idea that what I was experiencing was not normal. I’ve now had surgery to correct this issue, and looking back I realize how fortunate I am to have access to such incredible ophthalmologists and technologies available to me to treat this problem.
Jenny: I remember being in 6the grade and having to ask my friends what was written on the board. I knew something was wrong when my friends who sat behind me could see the board clearly and I could not. Since then, my vision has progressively worsened. I wouldn’t have my independence without glasses and/or contacts.
All of your eyewear is made from bamboo. Why choose that as the material?
Dana: Bamboo is eco-friendly, 100 percent bio-degradable, stronger than steel, naturally beautiful and the fastest growing plant on the planet! Why not bamboo? There are so many available resources to us in the world that don’t require excess waste; I think it’s so important to keep this in mind when developing new products. What already exists that we can utilize? For us, we’re using recycled bamboo scraps from a flooring company that otherwise would have become trash.
Jenny: We want SOLO Eyewear to be a wholesome, well-rounded brand by being both socially and environmentally conscious. We care about our world and the people in it. [Bamboo] is highly sustainable and a far better alternative to other materials.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Dana: Just do it. Starting a company and taking that first step is so hard, and prevents a lot of people from jumping in whole-heartedly. You might fail, but those who don’t try, fail 100 percent of the time.
Jenny: Never give up. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and inspire you to work harder.
The next few questions are just for fun: If you could only eat three things/dishes for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Dana: I’m going to have to say my mom’s golden mushroom chicken, sushi and pizookies. (I have an unbelievable sweet tooth!)
Jenny: Fish tacos, gumbo and mangoes.
What’s your personal style?
Dana: I’m from a beach town, so I’m pretty casual. Until recently I wore rainbow sandals everyday. One hundred percent of the time I am not dressed appropriately for the weather—if it’s hot I’m in a scarf and sweater, and if it’s raining I’m in a skirt and blouse. I love simple summer sundresses that you can throw on and run out the door!
Jenny: I’m super laid back—99 percent of the time I’m rocking a pair of jeans and flats.
If you had to choose a profession other than your own, what would it be?
Dana: This question is so hard for me. I couldn’t even pick one profession—that’s why I love having my own business! When I was younger I was a competitive gymnast for 14 years and taught gymnastics for five years. I really miss having that daily interaction with the kids and watching them progress in the sport as well as their personal development. If I completely jumped ship and did a 180 with my career, I might look into translating my athletic side and love for kids into some sort of sports medicine or athletic training.
Jenny: I’d be doing international humanitarian work—working for the UN or an NGO.
What is your definition of the Modern Career Girl?
Dana: A modern career girl is a woman who goes after her dreams without hesitation. People think that having a successful career means not having a family or a social life, or vice versa—but it’s all about balance. Being a modern career girl is knowing what’s most important to you and going after it: If having a family, social life and successful career are your priorities, grab a calendar and start balancing your priorities to squeeze it all in!
Jenny: My definition of a Modern Career Girl is a girl who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.