iWood Eco Design handcrafts designer wooden sunglasses from the highest quality, eco-sustainable, exotic wood veneer. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm also has manufacturing facilities in Indiana. CEO Steve McMenamin spent 20 years in luxury sales and design before he was inspired to start the company. As a former employee of Porsche Design, he wanted to find a better material than plastic to create bold eyewear styles, with a more comfortable fit. The company obtains its unique sustainable wood from local wood laminators who furnish cabin interiors for business jets. These include zebrawood, bamboo, bubinga, and Makassar ebony. iWood uses smaller portions of wood that the companies are unable to use, but work perfectly for sunglasses. The result? Sunglasses that are stronger and lighter than plastic and resist breaking, with the option for polarized or prescription lenses.
With eco-friendly fashion a growing trend worldwide, iWood Eco Design was confident of its great sales potential. “I see a trend of ‘greenwashing,’ with many products on the market claiming to be ‘eco’ yet they are not,” said McMenamin. “That’s where we have a competitive edge, our products are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, harvested by sustainable methods, and use glue and protective coating that are formaldehyde free and emit no VOCs.”
While export prospects looked good, the company had never sold internationally before, and first needed to identify markets with strong demand for sustainable eco-friendly fashion. McMenamin also wanted to establish the brand and finding reputable buyers who could help him set up successful distributorships. He contacted the U.S. Commercial Service (CS) office in Indianapolis to discuss identifying foreign markets and finding events in which to meet international buyers.
CS Indiana helped iWood identify the Premiere Classe Show in Paris, France, as an ideal venue to display its products and establish an international presence in the fashion market. The show features top designers who influence purchasing designers and exclusive international distributors, and represents a major event in the fashion industry. However, this particular trade show is very exclusive and is difficult for smaller, lesser-known companies like iWood to receive an invitation.
CS Indiana contacted the CS office in Paris to ensure iWood received an invitation to the Premiere Class Show. Additionally, the CS Indiana Director wrote a letter of support on behalf of iWood that enabled it to quality for the Trade Show Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance for small Indiana businesses to participate in International Trade Shows. CS Paris promoted iWood’s prior to the show by contacting fashion designers such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes. As a result of the show, McMenamin secured deals with Les Galeries Lafayette of France, and House of Fraser, a company with 62 stores in the UK. After the show, iWood continued to receive orders from throughout Europe, as well as Russia, Australia, and the Middle East. “I was excited that our product had even stronger potential in Europe than in the United States,” said McMenamin. “CS Indiana worked with us all the way, providing counseling on European Union tariffs and taxes, distribution methods, and providing market intelligence. Now, the majority of our sales are international and we expect tremendous growth in international sales.”
iWood Eco Design has since shipped to boutiques in France, UK, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, China, Canada, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark, and others. The firm is frequently featured in international magazines, including Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan, and is currently setting up distribution with agents in Seoul and Paris.
Attending a trade show and meeting face to face with international partners was key for iWood Eco Design. In addition to many leads, the company increased the visibility of its brand to buyers, and identified fashion and eco conscious markets. McMenamin found that Germany, Japan and Korea were especially eco-friendly.
McMenamin recommends that other small companies consider exporting. “Exporting has provided us with a steady stream of business through the economic downturn,” he says. Building on the success of its eyewear, McMenamin says the firm is planning on moving into more markets to include not only eyewear, but a new accessories collection made from scrap eyewear pieces to include earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and cocktail rings.
McMenamin states, “The Commercial Service Indianapolis office has been instrumental in providing us with information and support for our exporting efforts. They are always available and have provided immediate solutions to any problems in the exporting process.”