2017 marks the anniversary of Jason and Karen Kirk’s 25th year of working in optics, and like any good story, it is a tale of love, heartache, and passion. The world of optics is in Jason Kirk’s blood, his Grandfather and Grandfather’s brother (Sidney and Percy Kirk) established Kirk Brothers in 1919, a company that was instrumental in the growth of the British optical industry. Jason’s father, Neville, and all his brothers and cousins worked as opticians, and from the age of three, Jason spent every Saturday perched on the reception desk at his father’s practice in Kingsbury listening, learning and exploring.
Unexpectedly, Jason studied French at university and his work life began in publishing, then some time working as a sales and marketing manager for L’Oreal. Meanwhile, Karen had a career as an accomplished graphic designer for a London design agency. One day in early 1990, Jason was helping his father clear out his practice when he stumbled across a box of old frames, it was this moment that ignited his passion for the eyewear industry.
Jason says: ‘The box of frames turned out to be some of Grandpa Sidney’s old designs. Dad said that I could keep them. I took a week off work and headed to every major fashion store in London and sold them all! That same week L’Oreal made me redundant and I knew that someone was trying to tell me something. Shortly afterwards we had a full-page feature in Arena Magazine and the rest is history.’
After years of narrowly missing each other, despite working just a stone’s throw from each other and hanging out at the same places, Jason and Karen finally met by coincidence in 1992. They fell in love, and Jason’s passion for the eyewear industry was instantly transferred to Karen. She quit her job shortly afterward and they launched their first optical company together in 1992, a year before they married.
Twenty-five years later, and they are still thriving, in both business and marriage – an astonishing achievement.
Karen says: ‘We have a great understanding of what the other one is thinking. Our skills complement each other and we share the same aesthetic appreciation. Possibly the worst part about being married to your work partner is that it’s hard to ever stop working!’.
Career achievements include winning the Silmo D’Or Award in 2003, London Design Award and the Hall of Frames Newcomer Award. Their frames have graced many a famous face;
from Stevie Wonder, Oasis, U2 and Julia Roberts to Stephen Dorff, Ricky Gervais and Gary Oldman, yet the design duo confess their greatest achievement of all is ‘surviving in a competitive world’. Kirk & Kirk is a family business that maintains honest values and an unending passion for the industry and the people behind it. Jason and Karen believe in the individual being empowered and having the ability to express themselves through their eyewear.
The company have recently launched Kirk & Kirk Distribution, a new arm to their business that is designed to aid UK independent practices in the discovery of new eyewear brands, and plan to launch in America with Kirk & Kirk US very soon. They hope that during the next 25 years they can have a positive influence on the industry and help it face up to the challenges that lie ahead. To celebrate their anniversary, they will be going back to their roots, launching ‘Quartz’, a collection of specially commissioned materials that glitter and sparkle. Exuberant, celebratory eyewear that is bold, brash and does exactly what it says on the label. Jason says: ‘It’s been a pleasure to work in an industry that we still love after twenty-five years. The time has gone by so quickly and we have so much more that we want to achieve…we are more fired up than ever’. With an endless energy for the industry and their business, the future looks bright (and sparkly) for this passionate duo.
For more information visit the Kirk & Kirk website