Cubitts has opened its first store in the North at the Victoria Arcade in Leeds. The business, which initially started off online, opened its first store in Soho, London and is now up to 12 sites.
Founder Tom Broughton told The Yorkshire Post: “People want to buy things in different ways at different times. Sometimes you want to go to a store and speak to the people, get advice and touch the collection.
“At other times, you want convenience, you want to buy online, you want to do it out of hours. It kind of doesn’t matter.”
Cubitts has been looking for a store in Leeds for the past four years. It even put in an offer three years ago at the Victoria Arcade.
Mr Broughton added: “I’ve been trying to open a store in Leeds for probably about four years. The first offer we made on this site was three years ago. It took quite a while. We’ve always wanted to be in Leeds because it’s such a brilliant, vibrant city. In those three years it’s become even more vibrant.
“It feels like it’s one of those cities that’s going places in the UK. Obviously, Channel 4 moving here is a big thing but there’s such a strong creative scene.
“We know a lot of our customers are here anyway. In our stores in London, we would often have people come down from Leeds. It made obvious sense.”
The Leeds store will have four employees; in total Cubitts has 93 staff across the group.
Technology is increasingly disrupting the sector. Manual processes are being replaced by new developments, says Mr Broughton, whose career started in data analytics.
He added: “The other thing that I think is super interesting is the emergence of OCT (optical coherence tomography) machines.
“They do this three-dimensional scan of your entire eye. It isn’t just about checking your eye health, it can check your general health.
“It can find anything from high blood pressure, diabetes as well as optical specific conditions. The equipment is getting better and better. The really exciting next phase is when you start plugging all of that data with machine learning. There’s really interesting stuff happening at the moment at Moorfields Hospital with Google.”
Cubitts itself has been building up datasets to identify gaps in sizing collections and find ways to help people acquire frames, who would usually struggle to do so.
Mr Broughton had always dreamed of setting up his own glasses company.
“I love glasses,” the entrepreneur says. “I started wearing them while I was at school. Anyone who turns up to school one day in a pair of glasses knows that it just becomes a part of your identity. If you wear them at school it’s almost like your distinguishing feature.”
Seeing cultural icons wearing glasses made them even more appealing to Mr Broughton and led to him collecting vintage frames.
“I remember seeing the film The Ipcress File with Michael Caine in it and he wears these oversized frames and that’s when I realised that wearing glasses could be really cool,” he said.
People have become more adventurous with their choice of frames over the past decade, Mr Broughton says.
He added: “I really think people are becoming more interested in glasses. Glasses that don’t hide that they are glasses. That’s been the big trend.
“People want bigger frames, they want brighter frames, they want more interesting frames. It’s great that people just want to experiment.”
Even people who don’t need glasses are increasingly taking to eyewear as a fashion accessory.
Mr Broughton said: “If you go to South Korea, people wear glasses without even lenses in them. People are realising that glasses can be transformative. It can be part of people’s character. You put on a pair of glasses and suddenly you’re a different person.”
He added: “My guess is probably ten per cent of our customers don’t really need them and buy them as a stylistic choice. I think that’s great. One of our principles is to try and get people to want to wear glasses and not just need to wear glasses.”
Cubitts says Leeds will be its only site in Yorkshire but the firm does have ambitions to expand into other countries.
Mr Broughton said: “This will be our one Yorkshire site. We don’t want loads and loads of sites. Having one in Leeds, which covers all of Yorkshire, is just right for us.”
The entrepreneur says his ultimate aim is to inspire more people when it comes to wearing glasses.
He added: “We want to inspire a new generation of people to get excited about wearing glasses. It would be lovely if we could do that not just in the UK but around the world – whether you’re in Japan, Australia or Argentina.”
Becoming a part of the city
Cubitts hosted an open day to mark the launch of its first store in Yorkshire by partnering well-known independent firms in the region.
It has teamed up with Northern Monk brewery to launch its own beer. It also served coffee from independent speciality roaster North Star.
Tom Broughton said: “We see ourselves as being a part of the community. A part of that is we don’t just want to be a brand that swans in from London, we want to be a part of Leeds.
“I think our collaborations are hopefully a demonstra-tion of the start of that and show where we want to go. We want to be seen as a Leeds brand as much as a London one.”
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