Keep Cool This Summer With a Pair of Genuine Air Force Aviators

By Bailey Pilgreen
Photos courtesy of Randolph Engineering

Massachusetts-based company manufactures aviator-style sunglasses.

In the early 1960s, Polish immigrants Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski met while working at a small tool and die company in in South Boston. A few years later, the two American-dream chasers moved to Randolph, Massachusetts to build their own company from the ground up.

Four decades later, Randolph Engineering (RE) still operates in its original factory, and has been owned by three generations of Zaleskis and Waszkiewiczs. Since its incorporation in 1972, RE has been producing high-quality sunglasses for both civilian and U.S. military clients.

Today, that puts them in rare air. While 90 percent of the eyeglass frames sold in the United States in 1975 were made in America, the number has steeply declined. Only 3 percent are still made in America today. RE CEO Peter Waszkiewicz, son of founder Jan Waszkiewicz, says the huge diaspora of American eyeglass makers left the United States for cheaper offshore manufacturing possibilities in the 1980’s. But RE opted to stay, and today employs 70 crafters who produce half a million pairs of eyeglasses a year.

“Putting Americans to work is what it’s all about,” Peter said. “That’s what makes me happy.”

Waszkiewicz explained that because of quality concerns he is forced to buy some eyeglass components from other countries, because RE only uses the best components on the market. RE shares AAM’s dream of seeing a manufacturing resurgence in America, even if that ultimately means more competition for RE.

In the late 70’s, RE was able to land a contract with the U.S. Air Force to produce Mil-Spec Aviator sunglasses. Then, in 1982, RE won the contract to become the prime contractor. Once word had spread about these stylish, high-quality sunglasses, civilians were interested in purchasing them as well, which prompted RE to branch into commercial sales. Since then, these sunglasses have been worn by Air Force Pilots, move stars, and everyone in between.

Peter Waszkiewicz chalks the Aviators’ popularity up to RE’s quality standards, which he says are much higher than their competitors. He quotes his father, Jan, when he credits the quality for the company’s success: “It takes years to build a reputation but only months to tear it down.”

“Putting Americans to work is what it’s all about. That’s what makes me happy” –Peter Waszkiewicz

That reputation is painstakingly acquired. Beginning with collecting the raw materials to the end of the inspection process, it takes about four to five months to make one pair of Randolph’s sunglasses. If all the materials are already in house, it cuts the manufacturing process down to six to eight weeks. Still, it takes over 200 steps to make one pair.

Within the factory, some of the machinery still in use today was made by the founders, including the machines used to take the wire off of the roll, straighten, cut and finally bend it into shape. After the sunglasses are finished, they are put through an extensive quality inspection. Everything comes down to quality, says the younger Waszkiewicz.

“Made in USA makes a difference,” he notes, “but made well in USA makes a huge difference.”

RE also produces performance sporting lenses for shooting or hunting and optical frames, in addition to their ever-popular Aviators, and honors a lifetime warranty for its products in case any solder joint breaks, which, it says, simply won’t happen. The company produces half a million glasses per year.

“Our vision is to be recognized as a great American eyewear brand,” says Peter Waszkiewicz. You’ve seen their specs everywhere. Count that as recognition achieved.