LOS ANGELES — As a three-year resident of sunny Los Angeles, I know there’s nothing more valuable than owning an expensive pair of sunglasses.
Or at least, expensive-looking.
Especially, if your record of maintaining them is as shameful as mine.
In the past two years, I’ve left a pair at a hotel in San Diego, lost the replacement pair in the Pacific Ocean the following week and on two separate occasions walked lens-first into the same spiral staircase.
It’s pathetic and emotionally disturbing knowing that I’ve buried every frame I’ve ever loved.
Unfortunately, my most resilient set of eyewear, which continue to prove themselves nearly every weekend, are my beer goggles and believe me, I’d gladly go a few months without those.
That’s why when it comes to sunglasses, I try to keep my expenses and more importantly, my emotional attachment, at an absolute minimum.
Thankfully, Expatriate Pittsburgher Todd Smith has the solution for accident-prone consumers like me. A current resident of San Francisco, Todd is co-founder and president of “Stunner of the Month,” a subscription-based sunglasses company.
In the tradition of companies like Netflix or a wine of the month club, Todd, 27, ships his members a monthly pair of stylish, novelty sunglasses, also called stunners. More commonly available abroad and in trendier communities, stunners are often colorful, brandless and under $10.
“The idea is to be the destination for the third-millennium eyewear,” says Todd, who only charges $9 a month for a subscription. “In this social networking world, nothing is more fun than taking photos. And people don’t want to break their back paying so much for sunglasses they might break or lose.”
That’s a notion I’m quite familiar with.
Once you sign up for the service, you’ll receive a fresh pair of stunners each month accompanied by a case, an eyeglasses repair kit and a story highlighting the origin of your new pair. It’s almost like the movie, “About Schmidt,” only with sunglasses. Though members don’t get to choose their stunners, Todd says his customers “love the idea of receiving a new surprise in the box every month.”
Especially since his mix of stunners can’t be purchased at any neighborhood convenience store.
The collection comes all the way from Brazil, China, South Africa, Mexico, Venezuela and sometimes here in the U.S.
“We’ve set up relationships with retailers abroad and wholesaler, factories,” says Todd. “Whenever there’s something we’re interested in getting we contact them and have them sent to us.”
A Point Breeze native, Todd grew up very active in JCC basketball. He graduated from Shadyside Academy in 2001 and George Washington University in 2006 with degrees in mathematics and physics.
His San Francisco friends at GWU introduced him to the stunner culture.
“Basically it started by traveling the world,” says Todd. “We couldn’t buy too much stuff, so we bought stunners.”
In the fall of 2007, Todd made the official move to San Francisco where he worked in finance for Merrill Lynch before being laid off due to the economic climate.
As he continues to look for a new full-time position, Todd is doing everything he can to expand his fledgling enterprise. Since co-founding the company with a friend in July, the brand has seen a 20 percent growth in stunner membership each month.
But for Todd there’s more to stunners than just providing a little shade.
“It’s an attitude and personality,” says Todd. “It’s your alter-ego.”
And when it comes to sunglasses, there’s nothing wrong with a little polarization.
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and Web editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at email@example.com.)