Mike Christiansen

Top 40 Under 40 2009

Photography 3Ten Photo

Age: 38

Job Title: Owner, Venus Eye Design

Why He’s a Top 40: For building an eyewear franchise that’s competing with international designers at optical shops around the world

Like many Canadians, Mike Christiansen doesn’t go to work without his specs – and not just any pair. Only funky frames with bold colours and face-flattering shapes will do. It’s a tall order, but “I know a guy who can get me a deal,” he laughs.

That “guy” is Christiansen himself, an internationally distributed eyewear designer and owner of the Ellerslie shop, Venus Eye Design. But the real joke is that Christiansen has perfect vision. The glasses are purely for looks.

Glasses have morphed from medical apparatus to fashion accessory, and it’s a trend that is helping Christiansen’s business thrive. Spectacles have become such a hot commodity that some customers wear them just to be seen. There’s a growing global demand for colourful, original frames. It’s just the kind of eyewear Christian-sen creates.

Initially influenced by his mother’s job in optometry, Christiansen began a career in eyewear after dropping a plan to attend architecture school. Nine years ago, tired of the generic frames being manufactured by his employer, he put his artistic sensibilities and industry know-how to work, forming Venus Eye Design.

Since going solo, he has designed more than 300 styles of eyewear, inspired by the world around him. Because he’s constantly on the move, visiting retailers all over the globe, Christiansen sketches when he has a spare moment, whether it’s on a plane or just before he falls asleep at night. He finds inspiration everywhere, from the texture of a grapefruit to the colours in a stained glass window.

His designs are sold across Canada, Europe and Australia. He has his sights now on South America¬†and Asia. It’s a bold ambition, but given how well this small contender has stood up to global franchises despite a comparatively tiny advertising budget, anything seems possible. The most satisfying thing for Christiansen is seeing people wearing his frames. The first time was in the Toronto airport; more recently, he spotted someone at Disneyland. “That puts a smile on my face,” he says.

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