e Clips on the Freudenhaus Newton 1 (above) and the Theo Uno.
David Salk’s custom clip-on sunglass empire, known now as e Clips, was born when an opportunity presented itself while managing his store, The Focal Point in Berkeley, Calif. “In the ’80s, my shop soon became known as a place where you could get frames with clips,” says Salk. “Customers would come in with their own frames and ask about getting a clip made for it. I got an idea to construct a fully rimless custom clip myself, since there weren’t any companies doing that at the time.”
Working via the classic artisan route of trial and error, Salk successfully pieced together a rimless clip. “I had a large collection of old AO Speclite parts, which had been a very popular three-piece mounting a long time ago,” he explains. “I soon learned that the screw mounting wouldn’t work with rimless frames because of potential damage to frames and lenses, so I came up with the first e Clips design that used a sleeve with shrink tubing. I got a patent in 1992 and started selling it. It wasn’t the most beautiful product but it was made 100 percent by local people. I used a 100-year-old tool and dye company that made the parts and soldered them and a well-established powder coating company 10 miles from my house. I thought that was very cool—a homegrown, made-in-San Francisco product.”
What began as a local crowd pleaser gradually caught widespread attention. “At first we sold parts to a small group of opticians that wanted to provide the [custom clip-on] service. It gradually evolved into making clips for eyecare professionals who didn’t want to make them but wanted to sell them. Today we build clips for eyecare professionals all over the U.S. and sell e Clips components to opticians, labs and distributors.”
Salk’s spin on the traditional sunglass clip is a fresh approach to an eyewear accessory that has had a presence in the market for years. The popularity of sunglass clips has been strong in recent years, but Salk acknowledges this has not always been the case. “During the 1920s and 1930s clips were worn quite a bit and then fell out of fashion for a while,” he says. “I don’t recall selling any clips when I was getting started in the optical business in the ’60s and ’70s, but I’m sure they were around. Companies like American Optical and Bausch and Lomb made clips for some of their frame styles. They were all gold with green lenses and had a great look. It really wasn’t until the late 1980s, when Oliver Peoples launched, that clips enjoyed a great resurgence.”
Appropriate, then, that e Clips has recently partnered with the very company responsible for putting clip-ons back on the map. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for what [Oliver Peoples’ founder and creative director] Larry Leight has accomplished in the 20-plus years of history,” Salk says. “So much of his initial success was tied to clips, so it seemed only natural to attempt collaboration. When we saw how incredible the FLIP design looked on some of Larry’s classic frames we hoped there could be a chance to work together. The clips we have designed are getting a lot of attention and they aren’t even out yet!” (They are, however, featured on the Oliver Peoples web site and set to launch in February.)
David Salk’s intention was not always to venture into the optical industry. In the beginning, what he really wanted to do was to play in his rock band. From the age of 10 Salk accompanied his dad, an OD and manager of a California-based optometric chain, to work and by 12 he was taking patients’ pupillary distance measurements. So by the time he was looking to pay his way through his entrée into rock and roll, Salk was already familiar with the goings on of an optical practice. “I was a musician in high school, in a band and optical work became a great way to afford my guitars and amps.”
Salk continued on to college and pursued a degree unrelated to optical, but did not stray far from the field. “I worked for a local optician part time. I enjoyed it and considered going to optometry school when I graduated. Instead, I began to work for a contact lens clinic in San Francisco and learned how to fit lenses. After working there for a couple of years and managing a boutique, I decided to try it on my own and in 1976 I opened The Focal Point.”
The opening of the Berkeley-based store gave Salk invaluable experience with lenses—a part of the profession he had always been drawn to and one that would prove quite important for starting e Clips. “I’ve always been attracted to the lens side of the business,” he says. “When Zeiss came to the U.S. market in the 1980s I got quite involved with them and even ended up speaking at lens seminars. Furthermore, my store has always carried top quality frame lines, and in the late 1980s when companies like Alain Mikli, la Eyeworks and Oliver Peoples were getting started we jumped in feet first. It was a very exciting time in our industry and still is today. For example, free-form lenses—who ever thought we’d be able to custom-make lenses?”
Another “focal point” for Salk has always been working with customers. “My vision is and always will be about service,” he says. “Frame styles come and go, but at the end of the day what makes my work rewarding is providing a very high level of service. Today I divide my time between e Clips and Focal Point, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that there are days when I miss working with patients on frame and lens selection.”
Coming full circle, that same drive for rock and roll that propelled Salk to the optical industry is still front and center in his life. He has written music for members of the Jefferson Airplane (namely lead singer Marty Balin) and has performed with various bands over the years. And sometimes, Salk’s two prevailing passions, music and optical, come together, as he is one of the founding members of the Eyerock band that performs at Vision Expo. “We have a great time performing. I play guitar and sing. I’ve written a lot of songs over the years—some have been recorded.”
David Salk’s clip-on empire continues to grow, as Salk has embarked on collaborations with companies such as Marcolin and Oliver Peoples. With custom sunglass clips growing ever more popular, the future of e Clips seems bright. And in the meantime, Salk will keep playing that guitar.