State Optical Co. Acquires AO Eyewear


CHICAGO—STATE Optical Co. has announced the acquisition of AO Eyewear, Inc., a prominent former division of American Optical Corporation, bringing together two American-made eyewear brands and businesses. The transaction of AO Eyewear took place earlier this summer, executives said, and the details were not disclosed. STATE acquired the business from Alan McKinley, who will be general manager of AO Eyewear going forward. Scott Shapiro, CEO of STATE, told VMAIL that STATE has transferred the frame-making equipment from AO  and added 10,000 square feet to its manufacturing facility here, virtually doubling its size. 

STATE will be producing AO Eyewear, carrying through many of the company's sunwear styles and, in 2020, bringing out a new collection of sunwear, and, longer-term, optical frames.

In its announcement, STATE said, "As an eyewear brand dedicated to reinvigorating American eyewear craftsmanship and manufacturing, STATE has been creating luxury acetate eyewear since 2014 and has long looked up to American Optical, the oldest optical company in America. Although the companies were founded over 150 years apart, both were born out of the dogged belief that American eyewear craftsmen can make the best eyewear in the world. 

"AO Eyewear’s heritage, dating back to 1833, is not only full of impressive innovations in manufacturing but also celebrated moments in American history. AO was the first company to provide sunglasses to American military pilots. Their sunglasses were also the first on the moon; the iconic style, now known as the Original Pilot, was worn by the entire Apollo 11 crew and is now on exhibit at the Smithsonian. JFK’s favorite pair of sunglasses was the AO Saratoga. 

Even more important than the history of AO Eyewear, though, is their commitment to quality and to American manufacturing.This opportunity creates the perfect marriage between a luxury acetate collection in STATE and a classic metal collection in AO Eyewear," the announcement said. 

Noted Shapiro, “For years, AO Eyewear has been a company with unlimited potential, but was held back in part by their inability to produce acetate frames. STATE Optical Co. has been similarly limited by our inability to produce metal frames. We’re confident that incorporating both materials into each collection, will exponentially benefit both of these American made brands. 

"In fact, AO craftsmen are already working on reviving the much sought after Saratoga sunglasses to be included in AO’s revamped 2020 Collection, slated to debut in Spring, 2020. STATE is thrilled to become a part of the storied history of AO Eyewear and is committed to looking after the brand’s heritage and reputation for quality, all while reinvigorating AO’s image to carry the brand through its next 100 years."

“I firmly believe that the potential of the AO Brand will be fully realized as a result of this acquisition," said McKinley, most recently president and owner of AO Eyewear. "The STATE Optical Co. team brings a new energy to the development of the AO Brand while honoring its heritage. STATE is committed to the history and value of AO Eyewear products and is focused on providing American-made products to the next generations of eyewear consumers.” 

The acquisition, Shapiro noted, re-establishes parent company, Europa Eyewear, at the forefront of American eyewear manufacturing. "Together STATE and AO Eyewear, along with Europa’s latest men’s line, The Alan J Collection, will create a dynamic portfolio of American-made eyewear backed up by state of the art manufacturing facilities, unparalleled craftsmen, and Europa’s highly regarded distribution network. 

Added Europa Eyewear president, Jerry Wolowicz,  “The Europa team is excited to add the heritage, iconic styling and legendary quality of AO Eyewear to our portfolio and, once again, give independent eyecare professionals access to this storied brand.”

STATE Optical Co. frames are meticulously handcrafted in Chicago, U.S.A. for people who consider how their frame is made with as much mindfulness as how it looks. The brand was born from a collaboration of industry insiders Scott Shapiro and Jerry Wolowicz—who were focused on bringing radical transparency to how eyewear is designed and manufactured—and renegade, self-taught craftsmen Marc Franchi and Jason Stanley. Today STATE Optical Co. represents a first-of-its-kind brand of American made luxury eyewear, the company said.