In less than three years, Ace & Tate have turned the eyewear industry on its head, challenging the way glasses are traditionally produced and priced. That means a once humdrum visit to the optician has suddenly been transformed into a far more gratifying experience.
Their formula: trim the proverbial fat by eliminating unnecessary steps in the value chain. So, the quality frames offered by Ace & Tate come with complete cost transparency—from €98 all-in, including prescription lenses, shipping, and returns. Not bad for a 34-year-old entrepreneur whose background is a far reach from eyewear design. “My background is in investment firms so a completely different field, but I started Ace & Tate out of personal need,” says Mark de Lange from his apartment in the Duivelseiland area of Amsterdam. “I was staying with my girlfriend at a hotel in SoHo [NYC], and we’d pass this store every day where I’d see a really nice pair of frames that were way too expensive, so I’d basically keep walking past. On our last day in New York, they had a sale so I thought, ‘I should get my chance now’,” he explains. ” I ended up walking out with this beautiful pair of frames that cost me $200.” And yet, Mark quickly learned this seemingly simple discounted purchase was not so simple as he bided time and forked over money waiting for lens production.
Our collaboration with Ace & Tate is founded on giving back to the creative community. The Ace & Tate Creative Fund provides grants to emerging artists in order to bring brilliant ideas to life. It supports individuals or collectives working anywhere, in any medium, who take creative risks to break new ground.
“Back in Holland I went to have lenses put in and it was just a nightmare—my optician was giving me shit, it was very expensive, and I wondered why I should pay all this money for a pretty old-school product with little innovation,” he shared. “I just couldn’t understand why it would be so difficult!” Mark also realized that while he would change his outfit for various occasions, his glasses would always remain the same. “It struck me as surprising. I figured there must be a way to combine those two thoughts into a really nice concept.” And thus the idea for Ace & Tate was born, founded by Mark in June 2013 along with two partners. Their primary purpose: offer people high quality, stylish products for an affordable price point.
Mark grew up in a small town outside Amsterdam, and has called the city home for several years. The strains of British band Wolf Alice can be heard the moment you step into his apartment close to Vondelpark, which he shares with his girlfriend Eva. “I’ve always been into music,” he enthuses. “I used to DJ quite a lot at parties and I also played the guitar… although I’m very bad at it now,” he admits, laughing. And many of Ace & Tate’s designs demonstrate this passion; music is an omnipresent theme and source of inspiration for the brand. Jeff, Iggy, Dylan, and Cash are just a few style names in their collections. “I listen to a lot of different things but I think my real mainstay is rock—Appetite for Destruction by Guns ‘N’ Roses would be my hands down favorite.”
And all around his apartment, references to art and music abound. An Anton Corbijn photograph of Joe Cocker graces the wall in the hallway, LPs are stacked on the floor, and an electric guitar is leaning next to a record player. “I used to listen a lot to Joe Cocker and when I saw this photograph at Foam Gallery, the look in his eyes really struck me, and I knew I needed to have it,” he explains. “It was a very impulsive buy. Actually, I also bought a couple of other pieces that day by the British photographer Luke Stephenson… crippled me financially for a few months but totally worth it!”
“I have a lot of drive, I push things into reality, and I can be hard to convince. “
While Mark wouldn’t call himself a designer, his love for the arts has pushed the brand forward with creative collaborations on a myriad of projects. An idea that began in the Netherlands is rapidly moving abroad with plans for Ace & Tate stores in Germany, the UK, Sweden and Denmark. He and his team see the company as a multifarious endeavor with independence and creativity as its core values. “I really like the process of being involved in a young start-up company. There’s a lot of business creativity in that.” But while Ace & Tate is consistently modern in their approach, they refuse to become part of the trend cycle. “Instead of producing a collection according to a fashion calendar, we’ve been moving away from that and just working on projects with others and doing what feels good in the moment.”
His job as creative director, is, he admits, pretty demanding. “I have a lot of drive, I push things into reality, and I can be hard to convince. I see myself as a kind of quality control,” he explains. And while he doesn’t design the frames himself, he dreams up new campaigns and selects the people with whom he wants to join forces. “I get energized by artists so I’ve started to look at art more and more,” he enthuses. “Particularly in the first year of starting the company when it was very, very full-on, I used to go to the museums and galleries here in Amsterdam, earphones in, and look at beautiful photography and paintings and it felt good to zone out for a bit by doing that,” he adds.
“So many of the artists and musicians I talked to had projects they were really enthusiastic about but no resources to carry them out.”
Ace & Tate’s latest artistic endeavour—and their biggest yet—gives back to the creative community that has supported the brand as it has grown and developed. “So many of the artists and musicians I talked to had projects they were really enthusiastic about but no resources to carry them out. Or, they were frustrated because the public was only seeing their commercial work, not the beautiful art they were really proud of. I just thought why not do something to help support them, and that developed into the Creative Fund.”
Because it can be challenging for young, ambitious creatives to get a head-start, this new initiative (with artist and photographer Hanna Putz on board as their main ambassador) is geared towards granting funds to emerging artists to help bring their ideas to life. “Anyone can apply,” says Mark, from his office where he’s watching employees playing an energetic game of ping pong after a team lunch. “It could be a band looking for recording time or the resources to shoot a video, it could be a visual artist who needs to go overseas for a project but can’t afford it, it could be an artist with all this cool material that they’d like to transform into a book—the idea is that we help with financial backing and also the marketing to promote and show their work to a wider audience.”
“I used to listen a lot to Joe Cocker and when I saw this photograph at Foam Gallery, the look in his eyes really struck me, and I knew I needed to have it.”
“I really like the process of being involved in a young start-up company. There’s a lot of business creativity in that.”
The Ace & Tate Creative Fund initiative grants money to emerging artists in order to bring their ideas to life. Applicants put forward a budget and a plan and Ace & Tate will help them fulfill their goals. The creative board judging the works and deciding on the finalists consists of some creative heavy hitters: Will Hudson, founder of It’s Nice That, Lernert & Sander, an artist and filmmaker duo from Amsterdam, and Mario Lombardo, founder of the eponymous interdisciplinary design company based in Berlin. They, too, will offer guidance and exposure to the winner. “I hope it can be a passion project, fulfilled. Just like Ace & Tate is for me,” says Mark.
Thank you, Mark for spending the day with us and showing us your favorite spots around Amsterdam. The Creative Fund supports individuals and collectives, helping to bring brilliant ideas to life. For more information about Ace & Tate’s Creative Fund, see here.
The Dutch capital is teeming with creative life, to meet more of these personalities, flick through the various FvF portraits in Amsterdam.
Interview: Anna Peuckert
Text: Andie Cusick