Caitlyn Lim Aiting, a young economics graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS), grew up in an entrepreneurial household.
Both her parents have started their own businesses — her father operates a luggage industry in Vietnam, and her mother used to run a fashion apparel outlet in Orchard Road. Now, she’s following in their footsteps.
She has since combined her love for fashion and vision for an inclusive world to launch a sunglasses business that promotes the celebration of diversity.
A self-professed fashionista, the 24-year-old tends to express herself through fashion, from how she styles her clothes down to the colour of her hair.
She is also someone who is very sensitive to the plight of minority groups around her. As long as she could remember, she has always championed for the rights of the marginalised community, including the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) group.
“It is very important we accept that everybody is not the same, and that we should embrace and celebrate diversity, instead of bullying those unlike us,” said Caitlyn.
“My generation, Gen Z, is more socially and environmentally conscious than the previous generations. We want to do business and to buy products that promote the values that we believe in.”
This is why she started Twistrek, a new-generation, fun and futuristic sunglasses brand that targets a younger audience committed to support social inclusion.
I start with eyewear because there is an old saying that goes “eyes are the windows to the soul”. We perceive the world differently through our thoughts, feelings and belief systems. Hence, whatever we project and see through our eyes are a reflection of what is going on in our soul.
I hope to use Twistrek sunglasses as a platform to initiate change at the soul-level. It is an eyewear brand that fits faces across races. The product in itself is a celebration of diversity and inclusivity, thus changing beliefs of one customer and one soul at a time.-Caitlyn Lim Aiting, founder of Twistrek
Fitting Faces Across All RacesCaitlyn Lim, founder of Twistrek / Image Credit: Caitlyn Lim
Caitlyn had observed a glaring gap in the eyewear industry: most fashion sunglasses in the market are designed for Caucasian facial features, such as a higher nose bridge and pointed face.
Growing up, she realised that a lot of eyewear did not fit her flat nose bridge and wider face frame.
Together with her three friends — Jessica Ho, an art director from Singapore; Larabella Myers from Italy/United Kingdom; and Matej Majesky from Slovakia/Germany — they conducted focus groups across different countries to understand the public opinion around sunglasses.
Their research revealed that people with higher nose bridge have different pain points than those with lower nose bridge.
They also found that the problem of sunglasses is not only about comfort, but about style as well.
Since the existing options on the market can be quite boring and outdated, they wanted to bring in a new, fun, futuristic style that transcends racial, political, and socio-economic lines.
“We want to design fashionable, comfortable, and fitting sunglasses for all,” said Caitlyn.
Challenges As a Young Bootstrapping Company
Twistrek was incorporated in 2019 — right after Caitlyn’s graduation — and they have been bootstrapping since.
As the founder of the company, she bears the sole responsibility of raising funds for the company to get the business running. She had to teach tuition at the side to make ends meet, and all her other team members hold other jobs while building the company alongside her.
To date, she has forked out around S$20,000 and plans to invest another S$30,000 later this year.
Caitlyn also had to learn everything about eyewear from scratch — she started with zero knowledge about sunglasses, or how to design and produce them.
In fact, none of the team members possess any design or technical expertise to design the best sunglasses’ sizes and shapes for comfort and style.
This is why they onboarded an expert advisor — someone who has customised nose pads for eyewear for decades — onboard to make sure they are on the right track.Twistrek’s range of eyewear / Image Credit: Twistrek
To come up with a product market fit, Caitlyn visited optometrists and eyewear shops, talking to different people for hours. She also bought different brands to compare and measure them, consulted different experts in the industry, as well as conducted various market research and surveys.
Her groundwork did not just end there.
Caitlyn also researched the eyewear supply chain industry and contacted different factories and suppliers to choose the right partner. She made it a point to choose a socially and environmentally sustainable supplier in Vietnam that cares about the socio-environmental responsibility of its material.
They have since applied to be a certified B-Corporation company. B Corporation is a certification that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
There is no stability when you start your own company. You define your own success.
You have to dare to take risks and to not be afraid of failure. Failure is only another lesson learnt, so you have to be willing to fail and learn every single day.-Caitlyn Lim Aiting, founder of Twistrek
Catered For Conscious Millennials and Gen Z
Despite being incorporated in 2019, Twistrek’s range of eyewear was only launched in June 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.
One key challenge that the pandemic has brought about is the manufacturing delay in Vietnam, and this is exacerbated by the fact that the team could not fly there to speed up production.New Age Beauty (left) and Cyberpunk (right) / Image Credit: Twistrek
True to their vision and mission statement, Twistrek’s sunglasses are bold, different, fun and relevant across different groups and identities.
According to Caityln, customers’ response has been positive so far. She added that Twistrek sunglasses get the most traction in the United States and Singapore, with most purchases coming from younger millennial and older Gen Z demographic groups.
We have managed to break even so far to cover our operational costs in this bootstrapping startup but of course, we have not really done a big marketing push.-Caitlyn Lim Aiting, founder of Twistrek
She reasoned that the lack of marketing is because they have yet to launch full-scale as they are still awaiting for their designer range to be ready, which is slated for release in September 2021.
These original designer sunglasses will come in different fits to cater to as many face shapes and sizes as possible.
As of now, Twistrek is focusing on building their community and a niche digital presence that differentiates them from their competitors.
For instance, they have participated in TikTok and Instagram challenges, as well as reached out to community members and influencers to market their sunglasses.
They have also come up with community activities to build their brand around inclusivity and diversity messaging. They have recently launched a Quirky Monday newsletter, where they profile a unique community member every Monday.
“Our community is called the Twistfam,” shared Caitlyn proudly.
“In our family, you are free to embrace who you are — we celebrate your individuality, your uniqueness, your personality. We celebrate you in fullness!”
Featured Image Credit: Caitlyn Lim Aiting / Twistrek