Meet Finlay & Co, Britain’s first wooden sunglasses brand. co-founder David Lochhead talks celebs, style and success
Like most ingenious ideas, Finlay & Co started with a lightbulb moment. ‘We noticed a trend in America for wooden sunglasses,’ says David Lochhead, co-founder. ‘A friend had posted a picture on Facebook, and the likes and comments around it were absolutely crazy. I bought a pair and wore them to my birthday. The brand was very skater-style, and everyone said, “Dave, these are far too cool for you.”’ He laughs. ‘But the idea just clicked. It was this beautiful product, and yet there was nothing like it in the UK.’
This was the genesis of Finlay & Co: the stylish British sunglasses brand that Lochhead launched three years ago with his friends Tom Stannard, Dane Butler and Sam Lawson Johnston. Since then, the label’s instantly recognisable wooden frames – chic, classic and with a hint of retro style – have become favourites with everyone from January Jones to Cara Delevingne.
But developing wooden frames started out as a serious learning curve. Glasses are an intricate product, not only because they house lenses, but because the hinges have to be spring-loaded – and making them with wood only adds complexity. Each pair of Finlay & Co shades goes through a 16-stage meticulous handmade process, and because of the wood grain, each pair is unique. The case that comes with it is also painstakingly designed to ‘delight our customers at every stage’ – it folds flat so that you can store it easily while you wear them.
Choosing a name for the company was equally tricky. For six weeks, the founders would meet every Saturday and run through possibilities. ‘We’d be like “No… no… no.” It was so hard for the four of us to agree,’ says Lochhead. ‘But Finlay means ray of light in Gaelic, and we loved that thought of the first glimmer of sunshine and hope coming through. We took that to represent what we could do in the industry – we wanted to build a British eyewear brand that we could really get excited about.’
Stannard, Butler and Lawson Johnston are Marketing Director, Design Director and Creative Director respectively, though Lochhead tells me ‘We don’t use job titles much – we’re kind of making them up. I do a bit of everything.’ When it comes to the look of the frames, Butler takes the lead. He’s helped to create a selection of elegantly named styles, from the Beaumont to the Ledbury, mostly named after London streets. ‘Dane’s developing a pair at the moment that was actually inspired by one of our grandparents, who had these super-cool round glasses,’ says Lochhead. ‘Each frame has its own origins.’ The Thurloe – favoured by Delevingne – was modelled on the sweeping wheel arches of classic cars; the circular Draycott frames borrow from the clean design of vintage Pashley bicycles.
In the first major change since the brand launched, this summer they’ve shaken things up with a new product: acetate sunglasses. Lochhead insists that the two materials have similarities. ‘Wood is a raw material that gives a beautiful finish. Acetate actually comes from cotton, and when it’s handmade and hand-polished it’s really comfortable and has a beautiful gleam to it,’ he explains. ‘We’re using the finest Italian Mazzucchelli acetate, with really exciting coloured lenses.’
Finlay & Co is already a name to be reckoned with, partly thanks to those celebrity fans both at home and abroad. ‘In the early days it was David Gandy who was flying the flag for our brand,’ says Lochhead. ‘He wore them for three days in a row at the first London Collections: Men, and the pictures were all over the press – we were blown away. Since then, we’ve seen them on Naomi Watts, Jenson Button, Pippa Middleton, Vanessa Hudgens... The great thing is that once a celeb starts wearing them, they tend to really keep wearing them.’
A collaboration with Patrick Grant’s flourishing menswear brand E. Tautz in 2014 also helped to cement Finlay & Co’s place as a fashion brand worth watching. ‘Essentially the brief was to do wooden welding glasses,’ says Lochhead. ‘They were pretty wacky and they looked great on the catwalk.’
They never went on sale – they were a little too off-kilter for that – but working with Grant was fun. They bonded over their unconventional routes into fashion; while he came from the business world, the founders of Finlay have backgrounds as diverse as marketing, charity and property. They’re not the typical young designers. While others are holed up in east London studios, Finlay & Co is based just off the King's Road in Chelsea, which Lochhead says is much more convenient for all of them. They don’t seem to be in a hurry to join the fashion pack in Hackney.
Three years into its life, Finlay & Co is stocked in boutiques and department stores across the UK. The journey to success has been swifter than any company could dare to expect. So what was their goal when they began? ‘We wanted to create products that our customers would love, and when they wore them, they would receive compliments,’ says Lochhead. It’s a very simple formula – but when all’s said and done, we just can’t resist a good pair of sunnies.