Local businessman offers one-of-a-kind eyewear

By Suzanne McKeon Special to the Reporter-News
Monday, April 27, 2009

Reporter-News photos by Nellie Doneva Bill Havins works on some custom-made frames at the Individual Custom Eyewear workshop on Thursday.

Randy Barnett is president and founder of Individual Custom Eyewear.

About 10 years ago, he began to encounter problems finding the signature classic horn-rim style eyeglasses he's been wearing for decades and wasn't willing to part with.

"It seemed that the eyewear designers and manufacturers had decided all at once to make only wire rim eyeglass frames. I couldn't find the frames I wanted anywhere; they had been discontinued," Barnett said.

With the help of his Abilene optometrist, Dr. Russell Dressen, he managed to find three copies of the frame gathering dust in a warehouse and bought all three.

"That was the experience that got me thinking about making custom eyewear. Why should the fashion whims of a bunch of people I don't know dictate what my eyeglasses look like?" Barnett said.

A few years later, after gathering information about the eyeglass market and thinking it over, Barnett decided to launch his own custom eyewear design company. Indivijual (www.indivijual.com) is a company that designs and handcrafts custom, one-of-a kind eyewear for both men and women.

"It's taken six years to research and develop the technologies and methods that enable us to custom design and custom craft one-of-a-kind eyewear to the order of a customer. Our frames are something you can't buy off the shelf," said Barnett, the company's founder and CEO.

There are many benefits to wearing custom-designed and custom-made eyewear versus "off the shelf," according to Barnett.

His philosophy is that off-the-shelf eyewear only offers three sizes -- small, medium or large. He believes that his company offers something distinctly unique and different.

"We conduct comprehensive information gathering and analysis of each customer that drives our custom-design process. Our client's lifestyle, personality and tastes are key factors. We analyze and measure face, skin tone, hair color and eyes," Barnett said.

He said growing up in West Texas, he was aware of the famous custom cowboy boot makers in this region that create the best-looking, best-fitting boots in the world.

"When I entered the business world in Manhattan, I became aware of custom tailors and custom shoemakers who essentially hand-crafted the best-fitting, best-looking suits and shoes. I have always thought that the quality and precision of custom craftsmanship is just a superior way to make things versus a mass-produced method."

Barnett got to work acquiring the right equipment to design and produce high-end custom eye frames.

"I've been able to dig up a few antique tools and machines that had to be rebuilt to work on one-of-a-kind custom frames, but mostly we've had to invent, develop and devise tools ourselves to do the work."

Next, a team of local designers and engineers was brought in to lend a hand and provide a level of design aesthetic Barnett wanted to achieve.

He has two designers in Abilene now: Nil Santana is an art professor at Abilene Christian University and has been involved with the project for years; Vlad Gorbenko was a student of Nil's and also works with Tittle Luther Architects. Bill Havins is chief engineer and brings an engineering philosophy to design, as well.

"Our designers recommend a style and color that fits the client. Once the client approves a custom design, we make the frame to fit their face precisely. We even make a mold of their nose to make sure their design fits perfectly. So when we're done, the customer has a unique, one-of-a-kind frame."

Barnett has taken cues from high-end European designers and uses imported Italian plastics, made from eco-friendly organic materials.

"I'm not aware of any other companies in the world that do what we do to create truly custom eyewear. If you think about it, it just makes more sense to measure and carefully evaluate the customer's needs and requirements and then custom design and tailor-make a garment or a shoe or boot or eyeglasses for that one customer."

But custom frames, just like anything else "made to order," comes with a bigger price tag. Each pair costs about $600 because of the craftsmanship and materials. This is for the frame only and does not include lenses.

"Our objective is to create the best-looking, best-fitting, highest-quality frames for eyeglasses and sunglasses in the world. Of course they cost more than mass-produced frames, and so we know that only a small segment of the population will be willing to pay for the quality, the original look and precision of custom-made eyewear."

A pair takes approximately eight weeks from order to final delivery.

Barnett is hoping that those with a strong sense of personal style and individuality jump onto this and see the opportunity to create a thoroughly custom accessory.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have eyeglasses that don't look like everyone else's eyeglasses? You spend more on a business suit or an expensive pair of shoes and only wear them a few times a month. This is something that you put on your face every day. Nothing else you wear is more a part of your look and your persona than eyeglasses."