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Byron Ferrise left a dream job at Oakley to start his own eyewear business that provides custom sunglasses that fit every kind of face, but most importantly, yours.

Merage School EMBA graduate is making ‘eyewear that actually fits’

June 30, 2022 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

A few years ago, Byron Ferrise wondered why there was sizing for every type of clothing except sunglasses.

Shoes, shirts, pants and every other kind of clothing come in various sizes to fit a variety of body shapes, but when it comes to eyewear, the industry offers one size.

“The real problem is it’s a one-size-fits-all industry, but everybody’s face is different,” Ferrise said.

Ferrise, who lives in San Clemente, California is seeking to solve that issue with his company, Knows, which offers custom eyewear that fits each individual face. Ferrise cofounded the company after completing the Merage School’s Executive MBA (EMBA) program as a Dean’s Scholar and leaving a lucrative career at Oakley in 2020. Knows is set to launch on June 15.

“Everybody’s unique and we want to embrace that,” Ferrise said.

Ferrise’s entrepreneurial journey began at a young age. While growing up in Iowa, he mowed lawns to save money to buy shoes for basketball and gear for other various sports he played. His innate design skills and creativity was evident from a young age, as he regularly redesigned small details of the shoes and sought to improve them in his own drawings of the sneakers.

“I just always wanted to make products a little bit different,” he said.

In addition to his creative acumen, Ferrise also performed well in math and science in high school, so he decided to pursue mechanical engineering at the University of Nebraska. Despite struggling in the initial years of his schooling, Ferrise stuck it out and attained his degree in 2007.

While many of the engineering majors from the university tended to go on to designing farming equipment for John Deere or Caterpillar, Ferrise said he wanted to do something “with a little more style.” So, a few months after graduating, Ferrise started working at Oakley, the eyewear company known around the world for sports performance and innovation. Ferrise worked in various jobs in product development, operations and management during a 13-year career with the company. Oakley was a perfect fit for Ferrise’s lifestyle, considering he was an avid surfer, mountain biker and golfer.

“With the Luxottica integration, the company was evolving its manufacturing and operations at the same time that I was trying to grow professionally. It was an amazing place full of opportunities.” he said.

Ferrise said that one of his most notable accomplishments with the company was working on the C-Six sunglasses, which are one of the most iconic pairs that Oakley ever produced. He first got involved when he noticed the prototype on his bosses’ desk.

“The thing was collecting dust, because everybody was busy with their mainstream product initiatives, and this was the “nice to have" that nobody had time for,” he said. “It was extremely challenging technically and had a long history of delays, so everyone had given up on it.”

Ferrise convinced his boss to let him take on the project.

“I was working 12-hour days trying to get through the day to day while trying to earn my stripes.” he said. “Within nine months of taking on the project, we were in production.  Still to this day, I believe C-Six is the coolest thing that Oakley ever made.”

Ferrise said his colleagues started to take him seriously due to his work on the project. He went on to develop 35 other products, lead the vertical integration of frame injection molding and paint operations at the Foothill Ranch facility, and used lean and six sigma fundamentals to optimize cross functional business operations.

Ferrise continually strived to learn during his time at Oakley, but he eventually realized that he needed to look outside the Oakley organization if he wanted to grow beyond being just the “product development guy.” After exploring different options, he decided to sign up for the EMBA program at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business in summer 2018.

“It seemed like a no brainer,” he said. “I was impressed with what the program had to offer, and it seemed like it would provide me with exactly what I needed to continue growing in my career.”

Ferrise learned about all aspect of business during his time with the Merage School. He noted that learning how to better understand unmet customer needs would directly inspire the foundation of Knows. He also developed a very supportive network at the school, specifically singling out professors Imran Currim and Leonard Lane for their continued support and advisement.

“They say getting your MBA is all about the network. Since investment from individuals in my cohort has exceeded the current sticker price of an EMBA today, I couldn’t agree more.” Ferrise said, adding that they have also taken part in surveys, tried on prototypes, taken face scans and bought products from his business.

Ferrise decided to quit his job the day he read that Chase Fischer, who started the sunglasses company Blenders, sold his business for $90 million to the Safilo Group, an Italian eyewear company. Shortly after leaving Oakley, he cofounded Knows with his cousin Ben Toussant, a UC Berkeley law graduate who was doing mergers and acquisitions at Fenwick and West, a top-notch Bay Area law firm.

For Ferrise, Knows is about solving a problem that is personal to him. Due to the shape of his nose, Ferrise has found it difficult to find glasses that fit his face, even while working at Oakley. He’s excited to help people overcome their insecurities caused by being forced to settle with one-size-fits-all glasses.

During the infant days of the company, Ferrise and Toussant studied the variation in people’s facial structures by building a database of facial scans. They ended up researching countless anthropometric measurements of the face and head to see how they each impact how eyewear fits. Ferrise used his statistics background to develop a “modular fit system” around the data they uncovered, which allows customers to switch interchangeable parts of the glasses in and out until they get the best fit for them.

As the launch nears, Ferrise said in retrospect, the EMBA program equipped him with the skills, network, and confidence needed to take the leap and form the company.

“Deciding to join the Paul Merage School was the first step in this long and rewarding journey,” Ferrise said. “The knowledge, network, and the support of the professors has given me everything I needed to be successful.”

To learn more about Knows, visit https://www.knowseyewear.com/.