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In Conversation With: Eyewear Designer Stirling Barrett

Madewell Men’s is here, and to celebrate our new collection, we decided to work with some of our favorite, well, men (makes sense, right?). So our friends over at Wildsam, creators of the coolest travel guides around, visited a few great guys in cities that inspire us. Next in the series is Stirling Barrett, founder of optics brand KREWE. They spent the day with Stirling in his hometown of New Orleans where they talked sunglasses, style and life in the Big Easy.

P.S. Want to know where Stirling spends his off hours? Check out his guide to NOLA here.

What was it like growing up in New Orleans?

I imagine it’s a bit like growing up in New York City. You’re exposed to a lot at a young age. And you’re surrounded by so many unique things: the French and Spanish architecture, the flora, the parks. You can love it all without really understanding why, but when you leave you realize how special this place is.

Were you creative as a kid?

I had dyslexia, so for me normal things like reading and writing never came easy. Even with creative stuff, my mom tells me that I didn’t color inside the lines.

How do you think those challenges led you to where you are now?

I always had to figure out a different way to problem solve. I always had to think outside the box. I was 23 when I decided to start KREWE and I didn’t know anything about eyewear. So I sent a lot of emails. I reached out to some pretty well-known designers, and I asked for advice and help. And, believe it or not, they responded.

What did you learn in those conversations that sticks with you to this day?

That design comes down to millimeters. In the tiny changes, there’s a whole world of difference. For me, designing a pair of sunglasses is all about the silhouette. Before color and materials, what is it that we want to see on someone’s face?

What makes KREWE’s aesthetic different?

Eyewear is super personal. Before I see you, before I see your watch or your shoes, I’m going to see your face. And I’m going to look at your eyes. So, we think a lot about how to make sunglasses that are both modern and iconic, and how to be relatable in our designs.

What’s your approach to getting dressed?

Comfort is always first and foremost to me. I ride my bike every single day, and depending on what I have to do, I'd rather be comfortable—especially in a city that's 100 degrees in the summer.

What are the go-to pieces in your wardrobe?

A good pair of jeans, a short-sleeve button-down or a plain, heavy T-shirt with a front pocket, and tennis shoes. If it's summer, Birkenstocks.

How would you describe your dream pair of jeans?

I look for something that isn't too slender. Not a baggy fit, but something with enough stretch to it. As someone who is active and uses a bike, something with a little give is important. And it needs to be able to hold up to wear and tear without losing shape or structure.

Does the feeling of New Orleans find its way into the designs at KREWE?

Definitely. In our second collection, we introduced a pair that was inspired by the wrought-iron balconies in the French Quarter. It’s a double bridge kind of frame. And it’s been a top seller ever since.

How do you describe the city to outsiders?

In many ways, New Orleans doesn’t make sense. You’re not going to be able to “explain it.” There’s a richness here, a cultural sharing. There’s social, racial and economic diversity within neighborhoods, on the same block even. We’re based in the Lower Garden District, and it’s this pocket that’s between places. You’ve got the French Quarter, which is 300 years old, on one side. And the lavish Garden District, with mansions and old oaks and St. Charles Avenue, on the other side. And in between, there’s us, this artist-friendly neighborhood that feels like the next big opportunity in New Orleans. It's just a place that you want to hang out.

Feeling like a trip to NOLA is in order? Enter our Great Jeans, Great Jazz sweeps and you could win just that. Oh and don’t forget, you’ll need something to wear when you get there.

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