Two years ago, Harpswell native John Turner was walking on South Portland’s Willard Beach when he came upon a washed-up wooden lobster trap.
Something clicked for the young entrepreneur. He had already put out a small line of T-shirts and duffel bags, but he wanted to make something with more of a story – preferably a local story. The old-school trap was quintessential Maine, with its sturdy, brine-soaked oak slats calling up images of the dark North Woods, a fisherman’s predawn stoicism and the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine. He thought the grained, weathered wood could be crafted into the perfect pair of classic Wayfarer-style sunglasses, an accessory that is already drenched with plenty of attitude and nostalgia.
“I loved the idea of telling a story about Maine, and its heritage,” said Turner, who’s 26. “I loved the idea of turning something old, something salvaged, into a beautiful fashion statement. Fashion from Maine.”
Turner came up with multiple prototypes, some of which were built on a 3-D printer at a Biddeford design lab. He founded Traps Eyewear with Daniel Dougherty, a New Jersey transplant with retail experience and ties to the New York fashion scene. They kicked in about $30,000 each and bought a batch of 250 handmade wooden traps from the son of a deceased midcoast lobsterman. Then they hired a Detroit designer and a woodworker from Bath to craft what the duo believes to be the first pair of sunglasses made out of salvaged lobster traps.
Turner has since stumbled across other glasses with wooden features, but none made from the remains of one of Maine’s iconic crustacean catchers.
The wood is used to make the sunglasses’ temple pieces, which support the acetate frame made overseas and hold the glasses in place when tucked behind the wearer’s ears. Although the first pair was made by hand in a studio, subsequent pairs are cut by a machine lathe and then finished by hand.
The company is looking for ways to reduce the number of steps it takes to make the temple pieces without compromising quality. It took 100 cuts each to make the first batch, but the team recently found a way to reduce the steps by half.
The lenses come in a range of UV, polarized and coated mineral glass, as well as made-to-order prescription lenses.
The partners started selling their eyewear line last August with a launch party at Portland Trading Co. Since then, Traps has produced, placed and sold about 300 pairs of sunglasses and is now experimenting with wood and brass cuff links, with an eye toward expanding the brand into other forms of high-end retail wear, Dougherty said. The glasses are currently being sold in Rough & Tumble at 127 Middle St. in Portland and at Day Trip Society in Kennebunkport, as well as in a handful of specialty shops from New York City to Palm Beach to Tokyo.
BEYOND FLANNEL AND BEAN BOOTS
When they talk about the brand, Turner and Dougherty frequently describe their product as “premium” and the prices, which range from $240 for the hardwood brand to $285 for the Kennedy-inspired The Jack line, leave no doubt about which market they are targeting.
Case-in-point: The glasses got a major shout-out this summer from the upscale men’s style magazine Maxim.
Turner and Dougherty are targeting confident young customers with disposable income to spare, especially those who have summered in Maine and harbor a love for both the state and the sea. The Kennedy nautical style referenced by name in one of the company’s three eyewear lines is not an accident, Dougherty said. Think of the Life magazine cover photo of the young politician aboard the Victura, the boat that John F. Kennedy’s father gave him while he was a teen learning to sail during summers off Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, Dougherty said.
Maine style does not have to be just oversized flannel shirts, Bean boots and camo, Turner said. To him, Maine means adding a bit of ruggedness and heritage to your style.
“Here, style has been taken hostage by the thought of what a Mainer looks like to the outside world, or at least what they think it looks like,” Turner wrote on the company blog. “Rarely are the words ‘Maine’ and ‘style’ used to talk about anything further than this year’s hunting catalog. We intend to change that.”