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Stories

Selin Olmsted

by margit


ABOUT

Selin is originally from Istanbul and a global nomad. Right now she calls Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn her home. 

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Selin is like a breath of fresh air temperamentally and visually! When she enters the room a wave of positive energy sloshes towards you. She embodies a very unique mix of old soul and young heart, which to me is the epitome of Brooklyn right there. Similar to so many others she washed up at the New York coastline like sea foam many years ago and now calls this melting pot of characters, cultures and creativity her home.

I met her last year at our friend Mehmet’s annual holiday party, one of those gatherings that bring together old friends who don’t see each other as much as they’d like and new ones who you meet that same night and instantly click with.

Selin is the latter and an eyewear designer at Warby Parker - actually one of a team of four and the only senior designer. You can imagine, what happened when she told me … I immediately started interrogating her. I mean, there I was walking around this earth for the longest time – not all of it with glasses though – and have never met someone who designs frames for living plus works at a company that for every pair they sell distributes one to someone in need and has been independently evaluated to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. How could I not be excited about that? So, I had lots of questions for Selin like Do you wear glasses even though you might not need them? How does one become an eyewear designer? Is there a recipe to find the perfect frames? Well, just for the record, she used to wear glasses because she really needed them being nearsighted as a teenager. After college she became lasik and now wears glasses as a fashion accessory. She has 3 pair of optical and 4 pairs of sunglasses. But let's start at the beginning...

As a Turkish born Istanbul native, Selin grew up in a very progressive and design oriented family with her dad being an architect and her mum being a full-throttle business woman working as the CEO of a leather apparel & accessories company. She never had to go through the common process of figuring out what she wanted to be when she was younger. It was always crystal clear to her. She wanted to design - clothes and shoes and accessories. “Probably because I loved to touch fabrics, leather, and fur, and visually absorb all details of someone’s outfit.” 

Looking for a good school to learn the trade, she wound up at New York’s renown FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and through the school’s exchange programs also spend semesters in Italy and France, where she added a European angle to her stylistic repertoire. When she graduated from FIT it was with a specialization in womenswear, but somewhat ironically she spent the next decade designing menswear for upscale fashion companies in France, Germany, Turkey as well as the US. One of the things that excited her most about her job (and it still does), was seeing a concept turn into a reality and seeing all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly together throughout the entire process from ideation and design to execution and final product marketing, but as she got more and more experienced and matured as a design professional, she also started questioning the motivation and the social impact of the system, she was working for. “After 10 years of menswear design, I was going through hesitations about the designer segment of the fashion industry. I thought the industry could do better in keeping up with technology & innovations. Also, It didn’t make sense to me that all the emerging designers were aiming for the highest price point for their designs and answering the needs of the same demographics - the fabulous, cool and in shape 21-40 year olds.” 

In an effort to apply her own standards and values, she joined forces with her husband, Alex to open their own business of menswear knits & shirts in her home country. "Turkey was blooming as far as fashion & textile industry .Great raw materials, unique manufacturing facilities, it was an exciting time to be a designer there." She learned a tremendous amount as an entrepreneur, but with one of the worst economic crisis hitting markets in Sept 2008, it was too much for the relatively young company to handle and they closed up shop after 3 successful and exciting years in operation and moved back to the US. 

Her first job back in the States was being a course instructor at FIDM (Fashion School of Design and Merchandising) in downtown LA. But the desire to be back in NYC was too strong so after 1 year, they packed up again and moved out to Brooklyn. Now in her old stomping ground of NYC, she found Antonio Azzuolo, a menswear designer who’s unique and elegant designs were getting him noticed by Anna Wintour and other icons in the Fashion scene. It was during her time with him that she was first introduced to Warby Parker.

Whatever I learn, I will share that knowledge with anyone who is interested and help him or her out as much as I can. Information & knowledge should be open source; it’s no one’s trademark or right. In fact, the more my team is equipped with information & knowledge, the more creative and smarter I get with everyone else.

Antonio would consult for the eyewear brand on a regular basis and after a while she also started to go and be a part of the process.  When the opportunity to work with Warby Parker first came up, it was a part-time design freelance gig and she was tentative. She had never really worked in the field and wasn't as familiar with it as she was with designing clothes. A pivotal meeting with Warby Parker's creative director, Adam Mendelsohn, who she describes as a interesting person with very good taste and lots of experience in high-end markets, changed that outlook on things. She trusted her intuition and accepted the challenge. She quickly grew into the new subject matter, also because she was already familiar with the software used for eyewear design and could focus almost all of her energy on content instead of starting from scratch. Looking back she can't imagine her transition happening any other way. "I’m very happy that I went for it. I think if you can keep learning new things, not only will you be a happier person, but you also become more appreciative of everything around you." 

Today she derives a deep sense of satisfaction from working with people that like her refused to accept an impaired system and never grow tired of challenging the status quo to find ways to give back to society by doing what they love to do. For her good design is linked to social values and that is reflected in her work. She designs products that are smart, practical, functional, inspiring, and affordable. Products that she enjoys as much as the people she designs them for. "I love it when I see people’s expression and confidence grow when they try on a new pair of glasses. Seeing that little twinkle in their eyes ... I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that."

If you'd like to say Hi to Selin, meet her in her natural habitat or need an experts opinion on your frames go by Warby Parker's Soho store - she is there every Friday between 3-6pm.

 

THREE QUESTIONS

What would you say were the biggest obstacles and challenges you had or have to overcome on your way?

It was when I was an intern and working as an assistant designer in the first years of my fashion design career. Most of the time the mentality of sharing knowledge & information from the supervisor to the lower employees in the food chain was rare in comparison to today. There was excessive amount of competition and a strong fear of losing your job if another person excels. I really disagree with all that. It’s totally pointless. So I decided whatever I learn, I will share that knowledge with anyone who is interested and help him or her out as much as I can. Information & knowledge should be open source; it’s no one’s trademark or right. In fact, the more my team is equipped with information & knowledge, the more creative and smarter I get with everyone else. Another challenge I can think of was for the very first years of my career, I was having a hard time getting my ideas across to the technical team. Because I was so new, I didn’t know all the technical aspects of garment construction and would design unrealistic garments with details that were difficult or impossible to execute. For that reason, I had to make sacrifices from my initial idea when we got into prototyping. It was painful but a very good lesson to be learned. Now I know how to design in reality.

What helped/helps you overcome them?

First I’d say don't’ ever be afraid to ask questions. A lot of questions. If someone doesn't want to or cannot help you, go find someone else. Don’t give up. There are lots of helpful people out there who have the answer. Also it’s critical to take notes, be respectful of others time and develop strong relationships built on respect and trust. And, of course you should do a lot of research on your own. But relationships and trust is everything. It’s a team effort, from initial designs to final product. Also, keep learning. New technical skills, production methods, management training, public speaking, everything. Don’t ever stop. When you just do the same thing over and over without learning new things, the world passes you by and you become irrelevant.

What do you consider most important in your life? What makes you happy?

Well, my heritage is Turkish so personal relationships are always very high on my list. My husband, Alex definitely takes one of the top spots. And I consider him to be one of the most important things in my life. He’s also my boyfriend, my best friend, my mentor, my art buddy, my travel mate, a complete package for me :) Also, my family, my friends, and of course my career…they all are very important to me and make me happy. I am blessed and grateful to have them all in my life. Besides all that, I like the feeling of having a purpose, being driven, being part of a team, making positive changes in someone else’s life with the work I do.

PLUS ONE

What is your advice on or recipe for finding a perfect pair of frames?

It is a process! Please make sure you have enough time - minimum 30 minutes - to try various different styles, shapes and colors and most importantly ask an advisor's opinion in the store. They are great at giving recommendations. I would suggest to take a moment  to analyze the frame as a whole when worn. Ask yourself questions, such as Does it frame my face on the sides well? How does the bridge fit on my nose? Where is my eye in proportion to the lens? ...
Rule of thumb, the eye should be centered on the lens as much as possible. Is the rim on top tangent to my eyebrows? Is the frame dominating my look or does it complete me? Does the color work well with my complexion and hair color?