Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Fatheadz founder keeps his frames American-made.

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Rico Elmore possessed the financial resources to solve a personal eyewear problem and eventually created a profitable company to fulfill his own needs.

Elmore’s dilemma was he could not find a pair of sunglasses that fit him. He is one of millions of Americans with heads too large to comfortably fit in standard-width sunglasses.

To solve this problem, in 2004 he created Fatheadz Eyewear, a product line with four oversized sunglasses available in varying colors. The business began to catch on to the big-headed public in 2008, and today Fatheadz offers five lines of sunglasses and optical frames for people with the above-average sized cranium. Fatheadz is the undisputed leader of oversized eyewear frames.

Those designer frames you are wearing with Italian sounding names like Prada, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and others are actually manufactured in China. Traditional American brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley also make their frames in China.

The eyeglass frame market is not easy to break into. The Luxottica Group dominates the eyewear frame market providing approximately 80 percent of the world’s frames, which are manufactured in China. Italy continues to provide an abundance of Zyl, a cellulose acetate that is a vital component in producing durable plastic frames, but most of this element is shipped to China for manufacturing.

Those designer frames you are wearing with Italian sounding names like Prada, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and others are actually manufactured in China. Traditional American brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley also make their frames in China.

The eyewear frames may be stamped Made in Italy or Made in America, but that reference is only to the optical lenses being filled in a particular country. Very few eyeglass frames are manufactured in bulk in other countries around the world.

Elmore hopes to change that.

When he stepped into the market, Elmore too went the modern-day route of having his eyewear frames manufactured in China. But after doing 4 ½ million dollars in sales in 2016, he decided it was time to bring the business back to American manufacturing.

“We now have a complete line of 10 sunglass frames that are Made in America,” said Elmore. “We run the assembly out of our plant in Indianapolis and all of the frame components are sourced out of California at what used to the be the Oakley plant.” Oakley is now a Luxottica brand made in China.

“We make optic frames too but at this point they are not being made in the U.S. We are working our way back to that. We have five different lines with 10 eyewear frames in each line and we’re hoping over the next 36 months is when we can bring the manufacturing back to the U.S.”

Currently Fatheadz is offering the All-American V2.0 Sunglass Collection that is made in America. The Version 2.0 frames feature customizable options such as frame color, branding insignia and polarized lens options.

"It’s not a three-month lead time here. It’s a couple of weeks and when something really starts running we need to be able to make things happen quickly. You can be a lot more reactive in this situation than you can when things are being done overseas." Rico Elmore

The 43-year-old Elmore grew up in his family’s general contracting business and he later ran auto dealerships. He is no stranger to building a successful business.

“We make optic frames, too but at this point unfortunately that is still being done overseas right now but we are definitely looking at bringing that work back to the U.S. We have very competent manufacturing channels that we operate overseas, but the bottom line is we need more accessibility. We need people working on our same time and to create jobs. There is no lack of communication here. Everybody is on the same page here, speaking the same language. That’s one of the things.

“But the other part of it is the availability. It’s not a three-month lead time here. It’s a couple of weeks and when something really starts running we need to be able to make things happen quickly. You can be a lot more reactive in this situation than you can when things are being done overseas.

“The main focus is definitely having American’s building products for the world.”

Elmore was born and raised in New Castle, Indiana, about 50 miles east of Indianapolis and the hometowns of former NBA players Steve Alford and Kent Benson. It is HUUUUUGE basketball territory. What Elmore lacked in basketball size and ability he channeled into entrepreneurship.

This is the reason he was financially able to create Fatheadz Eyewear.

“I couldn’t find any eyewear to fit, and the thing that came to my mind was I can’t be the only one to find eyewear to fit. So, we struggled through it and now it’s a successful business. The financing for Fatheadz is just money we had saved.”

Fatheadz Eyewear frames can be found in about 5,000 retail locations and is carried in every one of Walmart’s Vision Centers. Fatheadz also does brisk business with its online presence.

“It’s very enjoyable having the manufacturing back here in the U.S. and having control over it where we can do a little more, a little big quicker,” said Elmore. “The main thing is employing Americans. We want to employ the people that buy our stuff.”

The price range for a pair of American-made Fatheadz sunglasses is between $100 and $200 and each pair comes with a two-year warranty.

Elmore has a deep passion for America’s military and donates a portion of each sale of his Made in America line to Folds of Honor, which provides educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service members. Fatheadz also offers a 40 percent discount to First Responders.

Elmore is determined to bring his entire line of manufacturing back to America, and, with profits in hand, he is seeing the economy through an updated set of eyes.

“A good friend of mine is Forrest Lucas who owns Lucas Oil, and his slogan is ‘Made in America, sold to the world.’ There is a lot to be said about that.”