Tens are the Scottish sunglasses brand making the sun shine every day of the year

The Tens co-founders tells us about crowd-funding, meeting Richard Branson and building a community around their brand.

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Palm trees, neon lights and a makeshift hot tub built with pastel-coloured panels and foam peanut ‘bubbles’ sits in the corner, ready for a photo shoot. It’s like little Miami, nestled high above the heart of Glasgow City Centre.

“We could do the interview in there?” laughs Marty, one of Tens’ Co-Founders, but we opt for the boardroom instead (wouldn’t want to get coconut latte in the foam peanuts).

Launched in 2014, Tens make sunglasses that make everyday life look and feel ten times better – and before you say ‘sunglasses from Glasgow?’ –  it was actually thanks to grey skies that the idea for Tens came about. It all started when three friends (Kris, Tom and Marty, to be exact) were on route to a festival in the Highlands on a typically not-so-sunny-day in Scotland, when they daydreamed of a world that could be Photoshopped to look like it was always summer. With a few hours to kill, they came up with the idea for their now signature lens, but it wasn’t all systems go from there. A few years, multiple sample amends and 18 hour work days later, they were sitting at a Gumtree-sourced desk island in the middle of a living room in Edinburgh, ready to push the big red button on their debut crowdfunding campaign.

Marty: “Originally, we were looking to raise £10,000 – which is what we needed to cover our costs for the first run of sunglasses. We set up this speaker in the office to go ‘cha-ching’ every time a pledge came through and at the beginning, it would go off every few minutes with our friends and family. We went to bed and in the middle of the night, the speaker was going mental, ‘cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!’ and we were just looking at each other like ‘what the fuck is going on?’”

Kris: “We’d set up an exclusive with Vice and CNET picked it up from there, and then we had Entrepreneur on the phone wanting to interview us, then Time wanted to cover it, then Yahoo! It was non-stop – the first five days of that campaign was a total whirlwind. ”

So how did they get on? Well, to give you an idea, Tom ran across the street to buy a bottle of prosecco every time they raised £50,000. So a few weeks later, and a few bottles down, they raised over £370,000 and had over 10,000 pairs of sunglasses to make and send all over the world. Today, the same people who backed them in 2014 are still around as part of the ever-growing Tens community, which is fuelled by the attention to detail and love that goes into the Tens brand. Every tweet, every enquiry, every piece of content is created by the Tens team, and as it’s still small, Kris, Tom and Marty play a massive part in the everyday experience. With a background in marketing, digital and video production, they each bring bucketloads of knowledge and creativity to the table, something that usually sits in the black magic of a marketing department or with creative agencies for a lot of brands in the same industry.

Kris: “We enjoy understanding people and their behaviours – why they’re buying into things, why they’re not buying into things, and we have a passion for brands and design. Normally, people go for a beer and talk about football, we sit and talk about brands.”

Marty: “There’s a real enjoyment in seeing how cool we can make something – how can we make the website even cooler? How do change the fonts to make it even more 2017? These little things. We have real pride in making sure the photographers we use and the social content we put out is the very best, top of our game. The goal at this stage is, we want to create something that we’re proud of.”

That’s why the Tens community continues to grow and why Tens are now looking to that community as influencers in their own right. Currently in the works, they’re developing a referral platform called Tens Club, where members can earn coins in exchange for products, both by Tens and by fellow indie Scottish brands (think minimalist watches, skincare, even bikes!)  – which gives back to their community and spreads some love for other brands, so good vibes all round. It was actually through the Tens community that they landed one of their biggest achievements to date – when by chance, a pair of Tens ended up on the face of Sir Richard Branson at the Christmas dinner table on Necker Island in 2014. Last year, they announced that the man himself joined the Tens team as a partner.

Marty: “It was insane, we got an email from someone with a Virgin email address to customer service, basically looking to change the colour for a family member and turns out they were a board member of Virgin and heard about us from Richard. So he phones me like two weeks later and is like ‘Hi Marty, I found an opportunity for you – so, in two days, get down to York and go to the train station and at this time a Virgin train will pull up, get on this coach and Richard will be there and you can sit down with him, then stay on for two stops and get off because he has another meeting’ – every second is accounted for.”

Kris: “All of us have been big fans of Richard for years, we’ve read his books, we’ve watched all the old video tapes of him crossing the Atlantic and going on hot air balloons and we’ve always loved his humour, his outlook on marketing and everything else. I think that was extremely rewarding, never mind coming on board, but just the fact that he recognised our marketing and our product – that was really cool.”

One of the things that Tens has become known for is their campaign films – from 80s VHS infomercials, to their most recent Spring/Summer release, which touches on the topic of living in the moment and looking beyond the blue light of our smartphones. A very different approach to their previous lookbook-style campaigns. Although nervous to put it out at first, they feel that it’s a true reflection of how the Tens brand has developed and where it’s sitting now. So with that in check, what’s next?

Tens is in the very unique position where it’s almost taking care of itself, but with such an amazing team, they’re keen to add another arrow to their bow. Whether in the tech space, or something through crowdfunding again, the plan is to take one day a week to work on new projects. By the sounds of things, there’s something already behind the shades and although we can’t talk about it yet, Tens have assured that we’ll sure as hell know about it when it happens.

Tens SS17 collection now available at tens.co.

Follow Tens on Twitter and Instagram
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