Digger: Hello Darren. How are you?
Iím well thanks.
Can you tell us a little of the background to Dead Men's
I came from the industry. I am a trained optician by trade
and had worked at opticians for twenty years. I moved to the
country and didnít want to manage opticians again. Been
there done that, and I collected vintage spectacles myself.
Through that I found out there was a market for them.
Thatís why we put all our energy into it.
The best way to start a business Ė to have a passion and
an interest in what youíre doing. So do you still have a
Iíve still got a collection which dates from the early
1800s through to about the 1950s. I donít collect as many
as I used to though because a lot come in and people say ďOoh, I
like that.Ē And they end up buying them.
What are the most popular styles?
We aim a lot at the 1950s so, for ladies, itís little
catís eyes in whatever colours we can get. The brighter
and the jazzier the better.
The Oh Boy!-type specs?
Probably just a little bit earlier than that. By then
they were starting to get a bit larger and squarer in that
late fifties early sixties stage. A lot of the people we do
business with want the more extreme pointy catís eyes from
the earlier fifties. And gents frames are coming absolutely
very much back into fashion Ė if you watch Heroes - the
character on that wears that combination frame as was worn
in the J.F.K. movie. Theyíre all made by a company
called Shuron and we bring them into the country because
they donít actually have a distributor over here. And we
supply a lot of those to gents.
What does The Internet mean to your business?
Without The Internet we wouldnít really have a business.
I wonder how itís going to evolve over the next ten years?
Itís difficult to try and second-guess it.
I think it will just become more and more embedded into
Weíll end up with just one box in the roomÖ
That does everything, yes. It gives you a worldwide market
and niche sales just wouldnít exist without The Internet .
There isnít enough in a city to keep me going as a
supplier of vintage glasses.
Not even if it was London or Birmingham?
No, we need the Net because we send all over the place Ė
Australia, Japan. Vietnamís quite a large market too these
days. Itís odd and itís for one style only there.
What do you enjoy most about running Dead Men's Spex?
Freedom to do what I want to do. Having spent so many years
managing opticians for other people itís nice to be able
to say ďThatís the way I want to go with this.Ē And be
able to follow it through.
Is it a big team, small team?
Itís just me and my wife.
Often the best businesses are like that.
Youíre all singing from the same hymn sheet arenít you?
Itís up to you to make sure everything you do works right
and everything is efficient.
Why does retro continue to be so popular in your view?
Thereís always that harking back with people. Forties and
fifties are just far enough away now to be cool and trendy
again. Weíre sort of getting there slowly with the
seventies and eighties.
Another good thing is that when oneís out another comes
Photo by Fleure de Guerre www.diaryofavintagegirl.com/
But also isnít there an amalgam of styles these days so
that every previous style is cool Ė all sorts of things
happening and blending at the same time?
Yes, very much that way. I think people have also realised
that with all fashions thereís only so many things you can
do with a pair of trousers! It has two legs, theyíre
either long, short or midway. And often vintage frames were
handmade, so that you get quality that you donít get with
And hopefully enough people recognise that?
What are the biggest challenges when trying to source
The same as with any vintage items these days. Theyíre
becoming harder and harder to get. Itís a limited stock
out there. Often youíll get a frame and youíll never see
it again. When itís here, itís here, when itís gone,
Hopefully you can charge a premium for that?
Is there not an element that people are increasingly aware
that these things are worth money and they find them in
nooks and crannies and attics where they would have
The days of dropping on a box of frames and spending a fiver
on them have gone. Particularly with the programmes on the
Iíve had a couple of phone calls from a lady who thinks
she has a Michael Jackson hat which she got in a car boot
sale. But although there was one on the Antiques Roadshow, because it had provenance
it was worth £25,000. This
ladyís hat only has the name Michael Jackson in gold and
the makerís label. So weíre trying to prove the
connection but itís frustrating.
I saw that hat on the show.
I am worried that thereís a factory in China churning
these out now!
With eyewear there are vintage-style spectacles out there
and people come up and say ďI bought this on the Internet
and itís the same as yours.Ē And I say ďWell, it
isnít and you probably paid a fiver for them because
theyíre mass-produced in China.Ē
Some people donít seem to know the difference between an
authentic item that obviously costs a lot more and a
reproduction, and they donít appreciate the quality. Say
for a vintage poster worth £1,500 compared to a reprint
I think it all comes down to how interested they are in it.
Would they ever have been the sort of people that would have
paid a premium for the genuine article anyway? Whether they
just want a touch of the look, and thereís nothing wrong
with that. As long as theyíre aware.
It wonít bear close scrutiny, particularly by those in the
Photo by Fleure de Guerre www.diaryofavintagegirl.com/
Digger: Where is the Dead Men's Spex business going in the
Hopefully to our own retail shop.
Youíre going back to a premises? Where would that be?
It would be up here in north Norfolk.
Where are you from originally?
Iím a Brummie born and bred from Great Barr but weíve
been here for five years. Another thirty years and Iíll
have gone out of the probationary period
to live here.
Thereís no sign of a Norfolk accent yet Darren. Why a
I think as with most vintage clothing items and accessories,
the problem youíve got isÖ
Touch and feel?
Yes, and people want to be able to come and try things on.
Would they come from several counties away to try them out?
I would hope so to the area we live in. Holt itself has got a
No, absolutely awful as they are to anywhere in Norfolk! We
need a good motorway slammed into it.
It took us ages to get to north Norfolk from Northampton.
It takes me about four and a half hours to get back to
Birmingham. Itís only 160 miles but you donít hit a dual
carriageway until you get to Nottingham.
But thatís still your dream to have a retail?
We think so, if not our own then in with somebody else. I
donít know whether Iíd like to go stand in a shop again
six days a week. But a premises of some sort.
By appointment only.
Where people can go and have a look at frames. Itís either
that or a Shepherdís Hut. A wheeled Shepherdís Hut out
at the front where we can set it up with all the frames.
Or a Ďmobileí where you could go around the country?
We already do that by attending a lot of shows.
Still keeping in with the contacts?
We like to get out and meet people. A lot of people who have
bought spectacles now we would class as friends.
It can be a lonely life in the workshop on your own. Itís
nice to get out from time to time.
Yes. Is there an element of repairs as well?
We do repairs and we also put lenses into frames. We have
our own workshop for that. If you buy a vintage frame from
us you can actually have a frame put in, which a lot of
opticians wonít do. They wonít touch a vintage frame.
Theyíre worried that theyíll break them. Whereas we
assure people that anyone who buys a frame from us they can
have new lenses put into them.
Darren itís been great talking to you and finding out
about the vintage spectacles business. Iím so pleased
itís going well for you.
Thanks David. Have a good afternoon. Bye.
Photo by Tony Nylons www.tonynylons.co.uk