Eye Opener

Riding the waves with optometrist
and sunlens innovator

By Andrew Karp

If you believe the cliché, "there's nothing new under the sun," you haven't met Andrew Ishak. In fact, it was the power of the sun that motivated the Chesapeake Bay-area optometrist to apply his knowledge of optics to create Bayz, a line of design stylish, high-performance polarized sunglasses.

Dr. Ishak's company, Bayz Sunwear, markets the line locally as well as nationally through a mail- order catalog. With sales beginning to pick up, he is planning to expand distribution in 2003.

Dr. Ishak tells L&T about the development of the Bayz lens and discusses his budding second career as a sunglass designer and entrepreneur.
As an optometrist, you have access to virtually every sunglass on the market.

Why did you design your own?
My wife and I are both optometrists. We live on a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay and our home faces west. So we have the sun in our faces all the time, especially when we're on our boat.

I was frustrated by the need to keep multiple pairs of sunglasses on my boat to adjust for the constantly varying light conditions. There's a big difference from the first light of the sunrise in the early morning to the midday haze, when it's bright and you need a lens to cut through the glare. On cloudy days, you don't need as much of a tint. One day while we were docking the boat, I thought, "Having to change sunglasses all the time is ridiculous. We should make our own."

How did you conduct your research and development?
We began purchasing polarized sunglasses everywhere. We tried every commercial sunglass available. Our pier was our laboratory. It took us five years to develop the right lens.

What performance characteristics were you looking for?
We wanted a lens that would reduce glare more than conventional polarized lenses and yet could also be worn in low light conditions. We found a plastic polarized lens that had been developed for NASA and we improved it. Bayz lenses' polarized filters are composed of 10 layers, each with a specific function. The polarization incorporates a recently developed technology that bonds much more strongly and reduces peeling and delaminating. Optovision Technologies in Dallas created a titanium silver dielectric mirror for us and bonded that to the NASA lens, which further reduces glare. This vacuum-deposited coating consists of several thin layers that improve scratch resistance and overall durability while reducing light transmission to 12 percent. Finally, there's a hydrophobic overcoat that protects the lens from salt water and smudging. Bayz lenses also protect from invisible UV radiation, which has a strong correlation with cortical cataracts, and visible blue light, which is a cause of age-related macular degeneration. In our amber lenses, both UV and visible blue light transmission are the lowest in the industry.

When did you know you had found the right combination of features?
I put the lenses in a frame and tested them, and then asked some of my patients to experiment with them. The feedback we got was tremendous. We gave some to state troopers to try out. When they drive through a tunnel while wearing Bayz, they tell us they don't get hit with a lot of light when they get out. They say the transition feels very natural to them.

How do you juggle being an entrepreneur and maintaining a full-time eyecare practice?
We have a very busy eyecare practice, Vision Associates. We are the dominant provider of eyecare in two counties in Maryland. It was actually one of my partners, David Heath, OD, who suggested starting a company to manufacturer the sunglasses. So Vision Associates became the parent company of Bayz Sunwear Inc. Now all four partners are involved in the business, which makes it easier.

Bayz Sunwear started out as a strictly local operation, selling to a few optical shops and boating and sports stores. Now you're interested in expanding. How do you plan to reach a bigger market?
We started retailing in 2000. At first, we had some local publicity. This year, we've begun getting national exposure because we are featured in the Herrington catalog (which features upscale merchandise for sports, travel, audio and photography enthusiasts). We also sell through our web site,
www.bayz.com. Our mission for next year is to expand into the mid-Atlantic region. We'll be hiring sales reps.

Who is the typical Bayz wearer?
We have slightly more male customers than female. The average age is 30 to 50 and the income range is middle-to-upper.

How does your training as an optometrist influence your work as a sunglass designer?
As optometrists, we know optics very well. Better, in fact, than most business people who happen to own sunglass companies. Using our expertise, we can design lenses that optimize the wearer's visual function.