Established by iconic businesswoman and entrepreneur Betty Lasse in 1969, Sunshades Eyewear to this day remains a family owned and operated business headed by Betty’s son, CEO Rodney Grunseit. Founded upon a unique spirit and drive to succeed, Betty Lasse was a woman genuinely ahead of her time.
Just three months after giving birth to her first son Rodney, Betty Lasse had returned to work at her Ramsgate Avenue pharmacy, in the heart of the famous Bondi Beach shopping strip. The sundrenched coastline provided the perfect backdrop and inspiration for the early days of the eyewear business. By 1974 Betty had moved away entirely from the pharmacy to devote her energies to the now burgeoning sunglass company she had been running simultaneously from a nearby shop front in Curlewis Street. Fearlessly embarking on a trip to Taiwan in the mid 70s, Betty managed to establish a direct supply chain with three local sunglass manufacturers, one of which the business still proudly works with today.
Leveraged by the personal relationships Betty had established with the Taiwanese manufacturers, by the early 1980s the business employed 3 staff and was turning over 400,000 sunglasses a year. The business continued to maintain its operations locally, but rapid growth resulted in moving to new premises first in Clovelly, then to a larger premise in Bourke Street, Waterloo.
In 1997, due to the success of their private label ranges Sunshades was offered the licence to develop and distribute Disney sunglasses and optical frames, an opportunity that would prove to be the turning point in taking the business from a wholesaler of generic sunglasses to the guardian and licensor of some of Australia’s leading fashion eyewear brands. By 1999, on the strength of the ‘fashionability’ and innovation shown in the new collections, Betty & Rodney had acquired the prestigious license for Oroton Eyewear and also started their own successful sunglass brand Fish. The business was now hitting turnover in excess of 1 million sunglasses a year.
Cementing its place in the fashion sunglass arena, in early 2000 Sunshades acquired the license to design and distribute Morrissey sunglasses. Proving another turning point for the business, this contract quickly led to development and distribution deals with several other high profile brands including Mooks and Mossimo.
In 2004 Sunshades gained the licence to design and distribute world-renowned New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker’s eyewear collection, an event that coincided with the opening of a second office and showroom in Auckland, New Zealand.
The rapid growth of the branded side of the business throughout this period necessitated the relocation of the Sydney office to its current, custom-designed premises in Alexandria in 2005. By 2006 Sunshades had become responsible for the hugely successful re-launch of Le Specs, a license that in part enabled the company to become the largest supplier of eyewear to Myer and David Jones. In 2007 off the back of the Le Specs success Sunshades was awarded ‘Myer Supplier of the Year’. The accolades continued in 2008, with Sunshades becoming ‘Big W Supplier of the Year’. In 2009 Sunshades again won ‘Big W Supplier of the Year’ as well as the license to design Polaroid, Cancer Council and Ksubi eyewear, further expanding an already impressive portfolio and taking the business into an unprecedented phase of expansion.
In 2006, Betty Lasse passed away while travelling the Silk Road, living her life with as much gusto as she had built her company. In memory of Betty’s special way, embellished on a plaque at the front entrance to the Sunshades Eyewear company headquarters are the words ‘you can do it – be positive’, the last in a series of inspirational quotes cemented in stone from a truly inspirational businesswoman.
The positivity of the Sunshades founder speaks volumes of the way in which the company was born, grown and achieved its many successes.