SODA Shades is a cult Australian sunglass label working its Instagram community to the max. Co-founder Luke Young speaks to Hive Life about what the buzz is all about.
Co-founded by four friends, Insta influencer Steph Claire Smith (who has over 1.5 million followers), former web developer Luke Young, Insta influencer Josh Miller (who has 95.6k followers), and Georgie Saggers, Melbourne-based SODA Shades is a sunglasses brand that launched in 2018 with a waitlist of 5,000 customers from the get-go. Billing themselves as ‘the feeling of summer,’ their affordable AUD 89 shades come in poppy colours and quirky packaging, attracting a dedicated group of customers who flock to the brand via Instagram and their various photo-op ready events. Having fostered that all-important community, SODA Shades communicates with their customers via text, determined to keep a personalised conversation going with the people who matter most – their shoppers. Luke talked Hive Life through how they’re working the direct-to-consumer space to their advantage.
“Summer for us, especially here in Australia, is super important. That feeling when you crack open a soda can and it makes that little fizzy sound, is what we wanted to create when we built the brand,” says Luke of the essence of the label he’s set up. And, alongside that sense of summer, they wanted to develop a brand that people could feel good about in terms of its sustainability credentials, too. “Everything that we’re trying to design has a secondary purpose in mind, so that people don’t go and throw their packaging out. Your SODA Shades come in a bottle which you can then take to the gym as a water bottle. We’ve got people using them as flower pots and even people using them as pencil cases!”
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Having started his own web development agency while at university, Luke quickly began to focus on e-commerce as a key area of interest. “E-commerce became bigger and bigger. I received a lot more inquiries around people wanting to launch their own e-commerce sites. That pushed me towards learning more about the space and understanding it,” he recounts. Next, he got together with his four SODA Shades co-founders to hone their concept. “Previously, I had a hat business, and I actually used Josh, now our business partner, as the model. My partner Georgie met Steph through her days at Frank Body, the coffee scrub brand, and George and Steph were always talking.” Once together, they then came up with the idea of SODA Shades around a dining table. “We came together and had dinner a few times. We were just bouncing ideas around, wanting to do something in the direct-to-consumer space.” Sunnies, being their go-to style staple, embodied the summer fun that they aspired to share as part of their Australian identity, and so, it naturally became their starting point.
SODA Shades is a brand rooted in and built off the back of Instagram, and key to its success has been its direct way of communicating with its customers. “We can set up polls and different questionnaires to really understand what our audience wants. A great example of that is, we were over in Hong Kong designing a pair of sunglasses. We saw the sample pair. Steph tried them on, and we just did a very simple poll: ‘Do you like the sunglasses or not?’ We can be very much ahead of the curve, and it’s really insightful. We can be open with our audience so that they’ve got a decision in designing and helping us create the product we’re pushing out for them.”
That communication doesn’t stop once SODA Shades have passed the point of product development. The next step has been to create a company that takes the customer through a total retail experience, with text orders available in people’s respective countries to make everything as convenient as possible. “We were seeing the way messaging bots had worked, and there was just something missing – it’s still missing in a lot of e-commerce channels – which is personalisation,” explains Luke. To make their service more tailored, they turned to texting, enabling them to build a strong community of dedicated customers, in spite of having a smaller marketing budget than some of the bigger brands out there. “The big thing that we see on social media these days is that you’ve got to pay to play, more and more. So, for us, being able to get a direct line of communication to our customers was really important.”
That communication has been used to build a whole world around SODA Shades. “People often ask, ‘Where can I see where you’ve been travelling? Where can I see all the music that you listen to?’” They keep people updated through their blog Seethrough SODA, and in addition, host events like music festivals and beach parties. At the For The Love music festival in Melbourne and Perth, featuring big names Hayden James and Safia just this November, thanks to a collaboration, people were sporting SODA Shades all around, so the team have planned more of the same. “Next, we’re hosting a 1500 to 2500 person event up in Sydney at Watsons Bay boutique hotel. We try and have a number of different touchpoints that allow everyone to be involved. We want people to feel like, even if you’re not wearing SODA Shades, you can still be part of the brand,” says Luke. “Because, really, it’s the feeling of summer.”