My Twin & I Started A $240K/Year Premium Eyewear Brand [With Just $200]

Published: April 22nd, 2022
Andrew & Ryan Shapiro
Founder, Tomahawk Shades
Tomahawk Shades
from Farmingdale, New York, USA
started March 2011
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Andrew Shapiro, and I am the co-founder and CEO of Tomahawk Shades. Tomahawk Shades is the Eyewear Brand I co-founded with my twin brother, Ryan Shapiro. Our goal was to create affordable eyewear while providing the best quality in the market.

We have made our eyewear from a handful of different materials and, at the moment, are putting a strong focus on acetate, which is what is used in our best-selling Ranger Class. Within the last 3 years, we have seen a 175% increase in sales year over year, to increase this going forward.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My brother and I came up with this idea while we were in college (Long Island University). I had to do a project in one of my business management classes where I was tasked to develop my brand.

I had recently purchased some glasses from another company, so I figured why not do it with something I just bought. We took things further than needed for the project and started to identify manufacturers and find samples. At this point, it started to feel like a company more than a project for class.

At the time, we had no idea what we were doing but knew we had something that could potentially be real. After getting a sample in, we decided to take on this as a true business and see where it goes. From that point forward, it was the main focus, no matter what. Classes, full-time jobs, partying, everything took a back seat.

At the time, we only had $200 to our name. We took that money, ordered the smallest run possible, and sold out within a week by just showing family and friends. One order led to another, then another, then another, and the next thing we knew, we had a website with 4 different colors of shades available.

After years of word of mouth and social media marketing, we have finally established ourselves as a global brand. And the journey is still in its infancy!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The design process is fun. Ryan and I will sit down and look at the competition and what is popular and try to put the Tomahawk twist on it. We have come to know what people want but also know how to try our best to satisfy anyone who comes to our brand. We always make sure to touch and feel every single product that we have before launch. We introduced our “Small Batch'' project, which allowed people to understand that we were not mass-produced but rather making small batches that were inspected and proven to be up to Tomahawk standards.

Manufacturing took a lot for us to learn as we needed to understand the ins and outs of making something that was imported but designed here in the US. We had to learn about the materials, functionality, design, and more before we became what we are today.

We were lucky enough at the beginning to be able to dedicate some time and not pay anyone to learn how to do everything we did. That included forming an LLC, sourcing, shipping, and more. It all took time but was worth it in the end.


Describe the process of launching the business.

When we first started, we had no idea what we were doing. We learned about certain things in business school but nothing that would prepare us for what we are involved in now.

We had to learn that an LLC was the way to go and what kind of bank relationships were needed.

Our launch strategy was extremely poor. We had no idea what we were doing and just put it out into the world and started to tell our friends and family. We had some sales from our family and friends on our initial launch day but very little. The good thing is the launch did not discourage us or sway us to give up in any way.

We ran off the original $200 for quite some time before we decided to get our first credit card.

We never raised any money to start, and looking back, we don't think we would change a thing. We struggled, but we were able to use the initial money we had and proceeds from our sales. We were able to run off our cash for a while until we were ready to get even bigger, and that's when some banking relationships were formed. We learned a ton through those first stages, and they prepared us for what we are involved with now.

When we first started, we used WordPress with no knowledge whatsoever. We just worked on it with any time we had until we knew the site could at least take an order and accept money. It was not the best but did work for us when we started. Once we knew we needed to get a better site, we moved onto a web development company that we did not take a strong liking to and continued to do the website ourselves and still do to this day.


Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

When we started, we were only growing through word of mouth. This was when Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook just started to become popular, and we would just make sure we were putting out any kind of content. Word of mouth was always the key and was the base for our start.

Today, we have created an amazing community within the Tomahawk name. We have a big fan base on social media, with Instagram leading the way.

Over time we got love from influencers, athletes, brands, and more, and we ran with it. We always made sure people saw the brand; that was the goal. We made sure that anyone in certain areas had a pair and their fan base would see it.

Always listen and don't be afraid to ask. People do things differently and your way might not be the only way. Someone can always help but you need to be open to accepting that your way might not be the best.

It worked very fast and allowed us to form amazing relationships, which eventually led to investments and more. We now run ads on all social platforms and have an amazing affiliate marketing team with our partnership with Today's Business and which has allowed us to get recognized all over the world!




How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our brand is growing both months over month and year over year. We brought on new equity partners (Chris Hogan, Jon Jay, Tom Ottaiano, Billy Ash, Joe Sanfilippo, and Daniel Descalso) that all have a unique role in the business. We have a ton of ideas, releases, new products, and more on the horizon. Our main area of focus is our web sales and e-commerce business.

Sometimes things are out of your control and the best way to handle it in our opinion is to just mark down every step that occurred so you can account for it.

This has been our bread and butter since day one and will continue to be our main focus. Over the last 2 years, we have brought in better materials, introduced our Blue Light protection, as well as this year, moved over to releasing Snow Goggles and our RX (Prescription Service). These are items we have been working on for a long time and know our current fans of the brand and new ones will enjoy.




Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We have made a ton of mistakes during this entire journey. Each one of them has taught us a lesson and we hold onto each one we learn. We talk to people about these types of questions all the time and what we always tell people is to learn from them.

Sometimes things are out of your control and the best way to handle it in our opinion is to just mark down every step that occurred so you can account for it.

Some of the things I wish we had earlier was this amazing backend team we have. Over recent years we have brought on people who have a focus on specific areas and it makes the business thrive overall. It's not the easiest thing to do but we always tell people “you don't know everything so always listen and learn”. This is one of the best lessons we taught ourselves and push it onto others now.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use the following platforms and tools for our business:

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

One of the best books I have read was called This Is Not A Tshirt. It was by the creator of a brand called The Hundreds. To get right to the point it was how what you are creating is not just a shirt or sunglasses in our case but a brand that people can relate to and want to be around. Culture and community are key things in creating a brand that will last a lifetime.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The best tip is to LEARN. Always listen and don't be afraid to ask. People do things differently and your way might not be the only way. Someone can always help but you need to be open to accepting that your way might not be the best.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!