It was whilst sitting at their desks, aged 17, at the Lycée Sainte-Marie in Lyons that Quentin, Charles and Xavier first struck up what was to become a life-long friendship.
The sixth form’s good Catholic fathers may have helped shape their outlook on the world, but it was actually a pair of glasses that was eventually behind their success.
On graduating from business school, the three young men were perfectly poised to start climbing the career ladder. “All we really wanted was to be happy in our work.” explains Quentin Couturier. “We wanted to retain a certain amount of freedom, we shared the same entrepreneurial spirit and our main priority was finding something we could do together.” Cue endless brainstorming sessions trying to find that perfect idea. At 24, they spent every waking hour searching for inspiration, eventually finding it right under their noses on listening to their Mums. “Where are my glasses?” was the incessant phrase that was to finally spark that elusive lightbulb moment. They should install magnifying glasses in all the places where short-sighted people, incapable of reading tiny print, could need them: in banks, at tills, in administrative offices…
In 2010, they launched See Up, an intriguing pair of stemmed glasses chained to a fixed base like a pen. A network of banks agreed to give their product a try, but the B2B market didn’t leave much room for manoeuvre. Following their first few steps along the path of success, the focus of their vision gradually sharpened. What people actually needed was several pairs of glasses, with them at all times, to suit different purposes. The magnifying glasses sold by chemists were practical, but far from attractive, and clearly not sexy enough for the latest generation of Fifty-somethings, as short-sighted as their predecessors but far more fashion-conscious. Cue the arrival of See-concept in 2012. A range of simple, colourful frames that were anything but lacking in style. Their aim was to create a universal product, retailed all around the world. Their inspiration? Swatch watches and BIC lighters.
The name? “Izipizi”, for “easy-peasy”.
The young start-up sought to do things differently right from the word go, exploring unconventional distribution channels. Rather than marketing a technical product, the trio focused on marketing an upbeat, trendy lifestyle. Their target? Trailblazing concept stores. Choosing to exhibit at MAISON&OBJET proved to be their trump card, winning them custom from Colette and Merci in Paris, the MoMA and Barneys in New York, Selfridges in London and Isetan in Tokyo. It didn’t take long for their flexible frames with a soft-touch finish to join the ranks of must-haves, alongside the latest trainers or designer speakers. 2014 saw sunglasses added to the range, and in 2015 “screen” glasses appeared, which filtered out the blue light from screens. Last but not least came the junior range and ski masks… with prices starting at just €25 for children and €30 for adults. Renamed IZIPIZI in 2017, the brand claims it is “easy, cool, wahoo”. “When something’s easy peasy, it really is as easy as 1, 2, 3”, says Quentin with a smile.
Now 32, and having dedicated the past few years to hard work and innovation, the three friends are well on their way to conquering the world. They may be at the head of a 75-strong workforce, yet the trio never lose sight of the camaraderie and zest for life that first forged their friendship back at school. Quentin is responsible for retail, e-commerce and communication. Charles handles the international side of things and finance, whilst Xavier takes care of product development and manufacturing. Retailed in 85 countries and sported by everyone from first ladies to rock stars, their fun and reasonably priced frames could easily adopt a whole host of other iconic slogans, such as “United Colours” (of Benetton) or “Come as you are” (to McDonald’s). Even today, MAISON&OBJET forms one of the mainstays of their strategy, and it’s an event they wouldn’t miss for the world: “We attend 70 trade fairs every year, but it’s here, where it all started, that we always get together as a team.”
By Caroline Tossan