It sounds like a reality show on the Travel Channel: Two Birmingham denizens, a Baker Donelson lawyer and a Pepper Place interior designer, escape to the U.S. Virgin Islands to pursue their dream of running a luxury eyewear company.
Yet it’s all true. The lawyer, Kris Anderson, and his wife, Alex, launched Maho Shades last year in part over frustrations related to losing or breaking expensive sunglasses while hiking, water skiing or otherwise enjoying nature. Their goal was to create a pair of sunglasses that could test the elements of any outdoor terrain while still providing a stylish look.
By being headquartered in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Andersons enjoy tax breaks that help reduce the cost of their product but keep their connection to the state, in part, by working with the Freshwater Land Trust, a Birmingham-based nonprofit. The company shot its lookbook on location at one of the Freshwater Land Trust’s protected conservation sites at Moss Rock Preserve.
Alex, a furniture designer by trade, designed the company’s first styles from scratch on CAD software. Their aim was to compete with sunglasses in the $200 bracket, with style, quality and polarized lenses, but for about half that cost.
St. John, as Kris noted, “isn’t a great place to employ a lot of people, ” so Maho’s sunglasses are fabricated in China, while the branding and marketing is handled in Alabama.
If they could take advantage of some of the state’s new tax credits for job creators, it’s feasible some of the work could eventually be done in Alabama, Kris Anderson says. “We’ve read about some great initiatives in the Black Belt, around Birmingham. Anniston has some excess (manufacturing) capacity. It’s a matter of finding the right timing.”
Meanwhile, work continues toward creating the perfect shades. Their latest innovation: tungsten steel counterweights in their aviator frames to keep them on your face when you lean forward.
“Our perfect customer isn’t just putting on sunglasses — they really love being outdoors. We’re just cutting out the middleman at every stage, sourcing the components ourselves and bidding out manufacturer orders so we keep costs to a bare minimum, ” Kris Anderson said.
Their products can be viewed at mahoshades.com.
Text by Dave Helms