SHADES OF SUCCESS
FOR IWOOD ECO-FRIENDLY SUNGLASSES, ACCIDENTS ARE A GREAT BUSINESS TOOL.
Steve McMenamin says his success was “a complete accident.” He needed laminated wood for comfortable, eco-friendly sunglasses, but when he arrived in the foyer of a nearby distributor asking about wood for eyewear, the receptionist nearly laughed him out of business.
Sixteen years later, Iwood is thriving—thanks in part to that awkward introduction. The wood laminator he was checking out had a lucrative niche: distributing to designers of interiors for private jets used by Hollywood’s rich and famous. The cackling receptionist accidentally caught the ear of a company executive who saw Steve’s odd request as a fantastic opportunity. It turns out the unused bits of wood were too small to be useful for the jets. Steve had stumbled upon a steady supply of the world’s finest woods—like Makassar ebony, zebrawood, bubinga. Steve used the cast-offs in the production of glasses he retailed through Barney’s in New York and Beverly Hills.
But Steve always had his eye on Europe. Fashion, he says, is “like the minors in baseball: You have to work your way up.” And Europe is the majors. After years on the domestic trade show circuit, Paris’ Premier Class would be like the World Series.
Just one problem: The odds of being accepted to the Premier Class show in your first decade are roughly equal to getting drafted to the majors out of junior high—unless, like Steve, you serendipitously bump into the show’s main organizers at a New York expo and they fall in love with your rare-wood sunglasses.
With their endorsements in his back pocket, Steve reached out to the federal government’s Commercial Services office in Indiana, home to Iwood’s manufacturing site. It was a smart move. CS staffers wrote the letter of recommendation that secured Iwood’s admission to Premier Class, and then gave Iwood a grant to cover booth space costs.
Iwood stormed Premier Class 10 years ahead of schedule. European Fashion magazines took note, and the glowing reviews that followed helped establish Iwood as a top-shelf brand in boutiques across many of Europe’s most fashion-friendly markets.
You’d think breaking into Milan’s Petti, the next great show, would be a lock. But officials from the U.S. Embassy in Milan, attending Premier Class, told Steve not to hold his breath: Petti, they told him, is for established brands only.
You can probably guess the ending: when he arrived back at Iwood headquarters five days later, an invitation to Petti was waiting on his desk.
So how did it get there? Call it an accident.
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