When entrepreneur Margie Toney first opened her eyewear boutique in Brooklyn, New York, three years ago, it was with the goal of bringing high-quality eyewear to an often-neglected community.
“I was raised in Brooklyn, and I wanted to bring a different aesthetic here aside from what they think we like. I’ve owned stores in Manhattan, and I noticed that the merchandise is very different from what is offered in minority neighborhoods,” says Haitian-born Toney, who moved to Brooklyn at age seven. “People of color can’t be put in a box. I’m here to give them something fresh, eclectic and different.”
Her Style Eyes Optical offers bold, unique frames from independent designers. It specializes in statement eyewear.
In 2020, the global eyewear market, which includes spectacles, contact lenses, sunglasses and other eyewear products, was estimated to be worth around $140 billion, according to Statista.
Toney didn’t randomly jump into the eyewear business. She studied and worked in the industry before branching out on her own.
“I majored in merchandising and buying. I was also a psychology major, which definitely helps to get into the real stuff with my clients. Knowing who they are helps me find that perfect fit,” said Toney, who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Early on, she also worked at an optical store in Manhattan’s financial district.
“I was 19 and impressionable. My boss and his wife were excellent mentors and showed me so much about the optical industry,” she told Finurah. “I had a good foundation and exposure because I wanted to learn and absorb what was going on around me. What stayed with me during that experience was one day I had an elderly Black woman come into the store. She told me she had never seen a Black person as a salesperson in that store. It made such an impression on me, and I wanted to continue that representation.”
Even today, there are just a few Black women in the eyewear industry, which caused Toney to face unique challenges.
“It often was uncommon to see a Black woman working in high-end merchandise. Over the years, I have had my fair share of challenges with distributors and other businesses; I’ve even had backlash from clients. Regardless, those who support me and are part of my tribe are here because of the quality and experience. That has no race or gender,” she said.
Toney’s knack for curating style has attracted a celebrity clientele, such as syndicated TV talk show diva Wendy Williams. She has been known to pop on some of the Style Eyes Optical eyewear during her show.
“I’ve made glasses for Cynthia Erivo, Lena Waithe, Aisha Hinds, Sheryl Lee Ralph,” Toney said.
Despite the challenges, Toney was determined to be a successful entrepreneur.
“Coming from a Haitian family, I was always encouraged to earn my own money for my independence. If there are things you want, you find your way. The optical business was actually a part-time job that bloomed into the career I have today. It’s a wonderful accident,” she said.
Now Margie Toney’s ready to expand her brand.
“I am actually working on my own frame line. I’m hoping to launch it by the end of this year. I also plan on getting more exposure to daytime television, with Q&As, and presentations of different brands. I want to share my vision.”