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Q&A: Mari & Clay - Lauren Chang

Founder of Mari & Clay, Lauren Chang.

The Mari & Clay designs are beautiful and have a classic feel, how would you describe the women and men who wear your designs?

I like to think of people who wear our sunglasses as stylish but understated, they enjoy modern city life but also appreciate going out for a relaxing weekend getaway in the country and being amongst nature. Their style is refined, relaxed and timeless. They don’t like chasing the latest trend and believe in buying less and buying better. 

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?

I’ve been advised by a fellow female entrepreneur to find the WHY when starting a business. It’s so important because WHY you started the business guides every decision you make for your business. 

If you had to pick only one pair of Mari & Clay sunglasses to wear for the rest of your life, what would they be?

For me, it would be the Murray! It’s a very classic round shape that’s also a bit vintage. It is very versatile and goes with everything. I love wearing the Murray in tortoiseshell. 

What sets Mari & Clay apart from other eyewear brands?

I think the way we do business makes us different from other eyewear brands. Mari & Clay places sustainability at the core of our business values. While we know being a fashion brand it is impossible to be perfectly “sustainable”, we try to always base our decisions around what is the better option. That can be seen in our choice of material for our sunglasses which is bio-acetate, a 100% biodegradable material. We also have a big giveback component in our business. We believe it's important as a business to consider the environment and people, and not just focus on profit. For every pair of sunglasses sold, we plant one tree through One Tree Planted. We have also recently collaborated with a Melbourne cafe Kinfolk to provide relief meals to Victorians who are going through a rough patch during the pandemic. 

We love the quality of Mari & Clay products, we know your designs are meticulously designed with careful thought on every small detail. Would you be able to share your design process with us?

I like to look for inspiration from classic and timeless styles. I also like to look for inspiration from nature, using more neutral and natural tones in our designs. I would put together a moodboard of all my inspirations and then go to my sketchbook to start working on the designs. We work closely with our manufacturer to draw out detailed drawings and specifics of each component of the design. We go back and forth a lot tweaking the design, often by 1mm. We really focus on the functionality of the sunglasses, such as what type of hinges are used, whether the bridge will fit comfortably, and whether the lenses pass the strictest standards. The fun part is then picking the right colours out of hundreds of colour samples. We focus on designing just a small collection so we are able to focus on the details and I’m very happy with the first collection we’ve launched.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned since starting the label?

I’ve learnt to be open to asking questions- whether it’s asking for advice or asking people for help. In the past, I liked to solve problems myself and often can dwell on the same issue for a long time. I’ve learned that through having conversations with others, there are always nuggets of wisdom that can be gained and you never know who will come up with a fantastic idea to help with the business. 

You’re based in Melbourne. How would you describe Australian style in 3 words?

Refined, relaxed, and fun. 

Do you face many challenges as designers? If so, how do you best overcome these challenges?

I think as designers we face the challenges of managing the business side of the brand - thinking about cost, margins, finding reliable manufacturers, and how to communicate your designs to your ideal customer through marketing. And the list goes on! My approach has been taking it one step at a time, taking time to plan and research, and recognising your strengths and weaknesses so you can best seek out help from others.  

What advice would you give to a young designer wanting to start their own brand?

Taking time to put together a good business plan and partner up with someone who compliments your strengths and weaknesses is super valuable. Don’t wait for things to seem “perfect” to start, the fun is in the journey once you start! 

Lastly, what’s next for Mari & Clay? 

We are looking into creating a new collection of sunglasses as well as optical glasses. We are looking at different materials as well, possibly a recycled-metal range. We are still researching at this stage, but definitely stay tuned!