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Dead Men's Spex






Dead Men's Spex is a place on the Net offering a selection of vintage glasses and retro spectacles from the 1850s to the 1970s - become anything from the Class Nerd to a 1950's Glamour Puss. "One pair is never enough". Find your vintage glasses, spectacles or retro glasses at Dead Men's Spex, whether you need vintage prescription glasses or vintage sunglasses!  Beautiful vintage frames to go with whatever period reenactment or style you are into.

Digger talked to Darren Manion about his business.

Photo by Tony Nylons

Digger: Hello Darren. How are you? 

Darren: Iím well thanks. 

Digger: Can you tell us a little of the background to Dead Men's Spex? 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: 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 collection? 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: What are the most popular styles? 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: The Oh Boy!-type specs?

Darren: 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. 

Digger: What does The Internet mean to your business? 

Darren: Without The Internet we wouldnít really have a business. 

Digger: I wonder how itís going to evolve over the next ten years? Itís difficult to try and second-guess it. 

Darren: I think it will just become more and more embedded into everyday life. 

Digger: Weíll end up with just one box in the roomÖ 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: Not even if it was London or Birmingham?

Darren: 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. 

Digger: What do you enjoy most about running Dead Men's Spex?

Darren: 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. 

Digger: Is it a big team, small team? 

Darren: Itís just me and my wife. 

Digger: Often the best businesses are like that. 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: Why does retro continue to be so popular in your view? 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: Another good thing is that when oneís out another comes in. 

Darren: Yes.

Photo by Fleure de Guerre

Digger: 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? 

Darren: 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 mass-production. 

Digger: And hopefully enough people recognise that? 

Darren: Yes. 

Digger: What are the biggest challenges when trying to source vintage material? 

Darren: 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, itís gone. 

Digger: Hopefully you can charge a premium for that? 

Darren: Yes. 

Digger: 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 languished before? 

Darren: The days of dropping on a box of frames and spending a fiver on them have gone. Particularly with the programmes on the telly. 

Digger: 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. 

Darren: I saw that hat on the show. 

Digger: I am worried that thereís a factory in China churning these out now!

Darren: 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 

Digger: 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 for £20. 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: It wonít bear close scrutiny, particularly by those in the know. 

Darren: That's right.

Photo by Fleure de Guerre

Digger: Where is the Dead Men's Spex business going in the future? 

Darren: Hopefully to our own retail shop. 

Digger: Youíre going back to a premises? Where would that be? 

Darren: It would be up here in north Norfolk. 

Digger: Where are you from originally? 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: Thereís no sign of a Norfolk accent yet Darren. Why a retail premises?

Darren: I think as with most vintage clothing items and accessories, the problem youíve got isÖ 

Digger: Touch and feel? 

Darren: Yes, and people want to be able to come and try things on. 

Digger: Would they come from several counties away to try them out? 

Darren: I would hope so to the area we live in. Holt itself has got a good reputation. 

Digger: Good roads? 

Darren: No, absolutely awful as they are to anywhere in Norfolk! We need a good motorway slammed into it. 

Digger: It took us ages to get to north Norfolk from Northampton. 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: But thatís still your dream to have a retail? 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: By appointment only. 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: Or a Ďmobileí where you could go around the country? 

Darren: We already do that by attending a lot of shows. 

Digger: Still keeping in with the contacts? 

Darren: We like to get out and meet people. A lot of people who have bought spectacles now we would class as friends. 

Digger: Thatís great. 

Darren: It can be a lonely life in the workshop on your own. Itís nice to get out from time to time. 

Digger: Yes. Is there an element of repairs as well? 

Darren: 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. 

Digger: Darren itís been great talking to you and finding out about the vintage spectacles business. Iím so pleased itís going well for you.

Darren: Thanks David. Have a good afternoon. Bye.

Photo by Tony Nylons


Darren Manion
Phone +44 797 177 8095






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