The Optical Boutique is unlike any other eyewear store in the world. Located in Kerrisdale, this business has been providing an unforgettable eyewear shopping experience since 1979. Entrepreneur, and local style icon Sue Randhawa originally joined the team as an optician, and became the owner in 2007. Years later, she remains heavily involved in every part of the business. From carefully curating a selection of handcrafted frames to providing consultations herself. The entire team works hard to personalize the experience, ensuring each client walks away with eyewear that complements their personality, wardrobe, and lifestyle. Besides running her business, Randhawa is also a front row fixture at Vancouver Fashion Week, a regular guest speaker at fashion schools, and has even given out scholarships for emerging designers. Continue reading to learn more about her career journey, her passion for mentoring her community, and her favourite optical brands.
Check out our chat with her below:
Haley Sengsavanh: Where did your love for eyewear begin?
Sue Randhawa: I opened my first store in Champlain Heights at the age of 25. In 1997, I came to work at The Optical Boutique and that’s really when my love for eyewear really began. I realized the power of the right frames on someone’s face. The right pair of glasses with a certain kind of clothing can change someone’s perception of themselves and impact their level of confidence. Glasses used to only be seen as a visual aid. There was a time not too long ago when people didn’t like to wear their glasses, and I wanted to change that.
How do you choose which collections to carry?
When I bring in collections, I don’t want them to compete with one another, I want them to complement each other. I usually go to Europe two or three times a year. It could be Paris, Milan, or Germany. Around two years ago I also traveled to Japan to see what the Japanese designers were doing. Because of the pandemic, all of that has come to a stop. It’s been very challenging. Some of the collections that I bring in and the designers that I work with, don’t have any representation in Canada or they don’t come here. The only place that I can meet them is at a show or in their home country.
It’s very inspiring to sit down with a designer and speak with them about their vision. Some of these designers and their families have been in the industry for hundreds of years. I also carry new designers, who usually create a fairly bespoke product. Often it’s created in limited numbers; globally there may be only 100 pieces made which makes that piece very, very special.
What are some of your favourite eyewear brands?
Anne et Valentin and Theo are two collections that always stay at the forefront of frame design. They do wonderful things with colour combinations. I also like Karen Walker, who is always very bold in what she does. One of my favourite pairs of glasses is from this brand. Sabine Be is another brand that is just so playful and colourful. Masahiro Maruyama does wonderful things with asymmetry and each frame has a beautiful personality. The collections that I favour tend to be strong in their styling.
Where did your love for fashion begin?
I’m the eldest of five siblings. As a little girl, fashion always interested me and it was my escape. Even under a very strict upbringing, I was able to find either pictures or magazines. I would wait all year to get the Sears Christmas catalog so that I could loo at the outfits and cut them out to make a wish book. I was always experimenting with my clothes. I was either cutting things up, shortening them, lengthening them, or taking something off of one item and putting it onto another.
I met my husband when I was 18 years old, and a few months later, we marries. i became a mother of two at 23 years old. Being a young mom, there isn’t a lot of time for fashion but somehow, through the ups and downs of life, I would always go back and that love would still be there. It was there when I raised my children, it was there when I was at a track meet or a swim meet. Both of my children now also have a very strong sense of style. It has been a constant in their life and it has also shown them the difference it can make in a first impression. I’ve always instilled this in them: to make that first impression a good one. That happens when you have the right outfit on, or the right pair of glasses.
What do you enjoy about attending fashion events?
I find these events very inspiring. Most of the shows have a lot of young talent and it’s a so beautiful to see and to be a part of. I like to coordinate my buying trips with the global fashion weeks happening so I can attend those too. Who you meet in Vancouver is going to be different from who you meet in Paris or Munich or Germany.
When I see creativity, it makes me want to continue evolving. That definitely shows at The Optical Boutique. You could come in today and then come back six months or a year later, and what you’re going to see is always going to be different. There’s constant evolution with myself and with the collections that I bring in.
What is one lesson you learned throughout your career journey?
Often we want results quickly in life, but it pays to be patient. I was a person that never attended events. The first major event I attended was Vancouver Fashion Week in 2015. I was so busy working on my business that I forgot part of its is also being involved with the community, the city, or even on a global level. I have met the most amazing people and it’s led to so many opportunities. Attending Vancouver Fashion Week has been a turning point in my career. This event attracts people on an international level that I would not get to meet otherwise.
Why do you enjoy being a mentor?
Mentor is a very strong word. I take that role very seriously, because I want people to grow. As I’ve grown older, the world mentor comes up more and more. It’s made me realize that the people I’m around, like my staff, see me in that light. For most students, regardless of your major, you need to learn how to run a business. For example, I see a lot of design students who are so focused on design, they don’t realize there’s a whole other financial side. i don’t know if enough time is spent in schools talking about how to get projects off the ground. How do you make a business plan? How do you approach a bank? But because I’m a business owner with 30 years under my belt, I can talk to them about those types of things.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
A lot of people go into business because they want to be the boss of themselves or make money really fast. Those aren’t bad reasons, but there’s so much more to it. Do it because it’s your passion. Whether it is optical or designing or whatever else, do it because you truly want to. Every single day, I look forward to working at my store. It’s important to be respectful, kind, and appreciative. You’ll build your credibility with authenticity, and that is really important.