We Spoke With Vintage Frames CEO Corey Shapiro About The Empire He Built Out Of Montreal
From his humble roots to his celebrity clients - we covered it all!
- MTL Blog got the chance to speak with the creator of Vintage Frames, Corey Shapiro, who rose from humble beginnings in Montreal to build an international empire.
- Hands down, Shapiro has managed to change the sunglass game entirely, with some of the biggest names in Hollywood sporting his eyewear.
- This man is truly a role model for following your passion — read his success story below!
In a society that's so consumed with what others think, it's refreshing to meet someone who is so wholly and unapologetically authentic. Behind the funky glasses of Vintage Frames is Corey Shapiro, an artistic genius with an undeniable hustle. He glows with charisma and an eccentric charm, but it's his inventive mind sharpened by humble ambition that makes this MTL mogul so special. After spending some time with him, it was clear to me that Corey's passion and devotion to his brand leave his clients with an emotional attachment to it.
You can see it in his staff and anyone who has ever walked into one of his stores.
Corey started from humble beginnings, born into a lower-middle-class family and bouncing around from school to school as a teenager. But from a young age, Shapiro always had business smarts.
That potential was something his grandfather always saw in him. Shapiro gives his grandfather credit for supporting his ideas and instilling in him a confidence that inspired the now internationally known Montreal-based eyewear company Vintage Frames.
Shapiro always had an eye for fashion but it was his keen sense for the industry that has allowed him to reach such high levels of success.
Shapiro believes that glasses "shouldn't fit your face but should fit your personality," and with that theory in mind, he single-handedly changed the sunglass game.
His glasses are worn by Hollywood’s most elite, from rappers and ballplayers to models and actresses, everyone who is anyone has a pair of Vintage Frames in their collection, including Sir Elton John and Oprah.
Shapiro opened up to MTL Blog about his company, his vision, and his new collaboration with Off The Hook.
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
Can you tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like growing up in Montreal?
My parents were divorced and lived in two completely different parts of the city. I don’t come from wealth, I grew up in a low-middle-class family. I had hard-working parents and
attended four different high schools.
The schooling system didn’t cater to my potential, let's just say. I always had good marks but had a problem conforming to other people's rules.
I kind of jumped around from school to school and in grade 11 ended up at Options II, which is a school known to help out at-risk youth. That is where I ended up graduating.
As a child, did you ever think that you would find so much success?
The idea of motion in my career and advancing was always there. I had my first business at 14. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur — that was fun for me. When my friends were outside playing hockey, I wanted to know how I could be the one to sell them their sticks.
What was your first business?
My first business was selling magic cards when I was young. That rolled into Star Wars figures, then it moved onto Beanie Babies. That turned into me starting a clothing line, then opening my a sneaker store.
There were a few things in between that, but then I started Vintage Frames and it turned into this.
I need to ask, what's the deal with you and Snowdon Deli?
From a stylistic point of view, there used to be this group of old men who would hang out at Snowdon Deli and they were always in these big velour tracksuits, wore big jewelry and drove those flashy Cadillacs.
It seemed like the generation between me and them kind of revolted against that style and opted for casual jeans and a t-shirt vibe.
There was something about these elaborate and over the top styling that I always equated with success, from a visual standpoint.
If I ever have a big business decision to make, I do it in Snowdon Deli, which is kind of weird. I even collaborated with them early on in my career. And I have my picture up on their wall, which is really cool.
How long has Vintage Frames been in business?
Since 2003. For the first year or two, I was selling on eBay. Our website is about ten years old and we opened our first store about five and a half years ago.
Do you remember the first time you felt that you “made it” in this industry?
From a financial aspect, when I was able to support myself financially and do so in an honourable way — so that was a major marker for me. But, I must say, the first time I met P.Diddy was incredibly surreal.
There is a picture of Diddy trying on my glasses and you can see me in the background, trying to hide my enthusiasm while at the same time owning the moment. So I think that was a defining moment that stands out in my career.
Do you find social media has helped your business?
I'm not really technologically savvy but I feel if you share both the good and the bad, there will be certain respect and following that will come with the honesty. That is what happened with Vintage.
Very few people are as in tune with their own eccentricities as I am. Most people aren’t really comfortable with who they are and they use social media as a crutch.
That isn’t how I do things. I think that us fucking up on social media shows the world that I make mistakes like everyone else.
How does it feel to be such a recognizable character in not only Montreal but around the globe?
It’s crazy when people want to take a picture with me or they want my autograph. I am just a regular guy who followed a passion.
It's pretty surreal to see how many people have been able to relate to both my company and myself.
You have found success on an international platform, why do you choose to live and run your business out of Montreal?
That’s an interesting question. Montreal is a weird city.
Montreal does not support things until they don’t need Montreal's support. The success of the business is not Montreal based.
So, the idea of staying here and offering something international from a quality and destination aspect is a choice I have made.
I feel as though a lot of people have given up on the city. People feel discouraged but someone has to be the person to stand up to the adversities of the city and kind of push these boundaries.
What makes Vintage Frames products stand out from other optical companies?
There are many different things. I am not your typical optical business owner, which is a major factor.
We have a bigger archive collection than anyone on the entire planet, so we have over a million units of actual vintage eyewear.
We do it in a way where we don’t fit the glasses to your face, we fit them to your personality. I don’t believe glasses should fit your face, I think they should fit your life.
That was the initial success of the company. Most people think it is because we sell to all the celebrities, which is true. But, at the end of the day, even if there wasn’t a single star working with us, we would still be better than any other optical company.
Your collaboration with Montreal’s Off The Hook is out now, what made you want to partner up them?
The partnership tells the story of Montreal’s real fashion history. We believe in the city and want to do something awesome for it.
It’s a very cool and elevated concept. We are coming out with a small clothing capsule collection, which we have never really done for the brand.
Our store is being closed and we are reopening a bigger and more elevated location. Almost twenty years ago, when I had my first brand, Off The Hook was the first store to carry it.
They gave me a chance in their store, and the cool thing about the store is that they really started from the bottom and earned their spot in Montreal, which is what I respect about the company.
So, clients will still be able to get the full VF experience?
Exactly, as of November 20, 2019, we will be serving clients from Off The Hook on Sainte-Catherine, so come say hi!
What does the future hold for Vintage Frames?
We want to expand our retail concept and expand in different cities. We are going to start doing prescription both online and in-store.
But I need to add that if we compromise our philosophy, which is our happiness, that won't work for me. Everyone that works here is excited for Monday and truly has a passion for what they do.
As soon as I stop having fun with what I am doing, I am done. I don’t really care about the money portion as long as I can stabilize what I am doing.
Do you have any advice for Montreal entrepreneurs looking to get their business off the ground?
School is not for everyone. Make your mistakes early in life, take risks and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to fall down and always make sure to try again.
Look at each of your failures as a success. The only thing that is a true success is getting back up after falling.
If my company fell apart tomorrow, I would get up, wipe myself off and move on to the next thing.