From Snoop Dogg to the Metaverse, How Justin James Is Building a Luxury Eyewear Empire Through Nouvintage
New York native, now L.A. resident, Justin James has always had a forward-thinking mindset as a creator. As the founder and CEO of high-end eyewear company Nouvintage, James is quickly leaving his indelible mark in the luxury space with his business savvy approach and contagious enthusiasm.
The Nouvintage collection includes frames made of premium materials such as titanium, gold, acetate, stainless steel, brass, and more. These materials are combined with handcrafted designs to create a luxe line of next-level eyewear. Furthermore, by using high-quality gemstones such as lapis lazuli and moldavite, James aims to provide the wearer with a unique experience. “We’re showcasing holistic gemstones that help out with healing properties and just giving our customers a more esoterical fashion experience,” says James. “We’re empowering our customers and also educating them on the oldest living things in the universe, which are gemstones, and trying to harness that power for their own benefit.”
Since launching in December 2019, Nouvintage has continued to flourish despite the pandemic. A partnership was born through a serendipitous exchange between Snoop Dogg’s team and James, thus proving that success is attainable with the right amount of grit and gumption. Since collaborating with Nouvintage, Snoop has donned the diamond-studded Aunt Viv collection in photo shoots, commercials, and outings. Along with Snoop, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter H.E.R., rapper Dave East, and other A-listers continue to sport Nouvintage eyewear.
EDITION caught up with James to talk about all things Nouvintage – from the fun alliance with Snoop to entering the metaverse with forthcoming NFTs.
When did you launch Nouvintage? And what was the catalyst in your decision to launch this brand?
I had the Nouvintage idea around 2016. Through asking friends, family, and influencers about glasses and about designs, I kept on hearing, ‘Yo, do you have vintage?’ I’m a New Yorker, and having that hustler mentality, I was like, ‘Okay, people want vintage, but how can I give them vintage but still be my own – be new?’ I would say it was God saying, ‘Yo, call it Nouvintage.’ So, at first, I was just taking vintage glasses and putting mirror lenses in them and making them new that way. Then, I just started actually designing full fledge, going overseas, and getting my own product. That’s when it really took off. We came up with our first product in late 2018. Then, we got our actual EIN and all that stuff in December of 2019.
Oh, nice! So, you’re self-taught then?
Yes! It's crazy how I'm even doing fashion right now. I grew up as a jock my whole life, to be honest, but I do remember being young in seventh and eighth grade and spray-painting my cleats silver. I’d come to the practice, and everybody's like, "What is that?" I always had that design mentality…I always felt like I was a visionary, even when I didn't have a design focus.
So, you've always been ahead of the curve.
I would honestly say that sometimes I don't take advantage of it – when it comes to being a visionary. I’m definitely self-taught. I used to work at Rockstar Original, which is a jeans company out here in L.A. And that really gave me the opportunity to see how to run an online business. When we started it, we were making 500k a year online. When I left, we were making three million. So, I was really able to grow with the company and just know how to run an online business. I go to YouTube university daily.
Love it. Let’s talk about the Aunt Viv sunglasses. That style was my first introduction to your brand, seeing these cool glasses on Martha Stewart and Snoop. Did you already have that placement with Snoop? How did this all come about?
Again, I used to work at a Rockstar, and I did everything there when it came to online and marketing. At first, I was like, ‘I'm doing so much,’ but now I'm still on the same page doing so much with my own company, so I guess it got me ready, in a sense. So, I remember Snoop’s people liked the tracksuits, and I had just started my brand. I was like, ‘Yo, hey, man, I got these glasses. Can you give it to Snoop?’ And he was like, “I'll give it to him, but he doesn’t really like too much stuff.” Then, Snoop proceeds to wear them 35 times in like 63 days, the next following months. So, we were building that relationship. Then, I did a partnership with Dave East, and I guess Snoop saw the popularity of that, and he was like, “Yo, what about me?” At the end of the day, I didn't have enough money to work for Snoop at the time. So, he came, and we worked out a deal. He really enjoys the glasses. Look at how much he wears them and the fact that he wants to work with a Black-owned company like ours and help us create. It's an excellent opportunity. I couldn't find a better ambassador, somebody who represents the brand as “new vintage.” He reinvents himself. So, I think he really epitomizes the brand.
So, with the Martha situation, he asked for some glasses around Christmas, and I knew he was going to give them to his friends, who are all publicly famous. I had a feeling he was going to give them to Martha – and he gave them to her. I don't know what it is behind the glasses, maybe just good energy, but people really resonate with them, and she wears them like everybody wears them – very happy to wear them, and it gives people confidence. I think my brand really empowers people to be confident. The more confident you are, the more you move through life with a sense of direction. I'm glad that my brand is moved to do that.
Yeah, absolutely. Snoop is the perfect Nouvintage brand ambassador, as you mentioned. He just has such a unique style.
Yeah, he’s very likable. From eight to 80, people know Snoop. It’s such a blessing, and I'm just so appreciative of how he promotes us, always wears the product, and just makes opportunities for us. So, I'm always indebted to him for that.
Awesome. He’s wearing those glasses to the Super Bowl, right?
Yes! So, I'm excited about that. He actually wore them in the Pepsi NFL commercial. With me still being a jock, it's just everything's coming full circle. I remember it was maybe two months ago; they actually showed the preview of the commercial and him talking to Dr. Dre. The fact that I'm just watching football like I do on Thursday by myself, then this halftime show thing comes on, and then Snoop is wearing the glasses in the segment; then, he’s also wearing the glasses in behind the scenes. So, it’s two different placements of Nouvintage. I was just sitting there, shocked. I can’t believe it. He’s definitely wearing for the Super Bowl.
Very cool. Congratulations! So, I also was told that you plan on digitalizing the collection and launching an NFT. Can you tell me about it?
We definitely want to serialize the product and basically be the Rolex of sunglasses in a sense – giving people ownership – to really usher in our fashion tech company to 3.0. So, we’re making NFTs where we're twinning the product. So, you can buy physical products and get the NFT to either keep or make a profit off of. I'm just trying to empower our customers in any way we can, especially about giving them knowledge about Web 3.0. That's a big thing for us that we want, especially people of color, to not miss out on this Web 3.0 opportunity. We just want to make it cool. We also have other NFTs. We’re coming out with a movie brought in by characters and avatars wearing the glasses. We have another collection called Babes of Anime that we're doing. I'm a creator, and this is what fuels me. So, you're going to be seeing a lot of NFTs for sure.
Awesome! What else can we look forward to going into 2022? The NFTs are huge, but is there anything else happening this year as well?
I would say that we're going to be working on AR glasses for sure. We definitely want to move into a fashion tech company. So, we’re definitely getting into more tech and working with developers. We want to start showcasing developers because they're going to be the new rockstars with Web 3.0.
Also, on the customer service side and how we treat our customers, it just hit me: ‘How would I treat my customers if money wasn't involved?’ I would treat them like my friends. I'm all about empowering my friends, giving them affirmations, helping them manifest, and helping them reach their goals. That’s something that I really want to focus on moving into 2022 and beyond. How can I empower my customers? How can I help them reach their goals? How can I help them manifest? If they're reaching their optimal goals while wearing the product, everybody wins. So, trying different things like to get a discount, you have to write these affirmations – just different things companies don't do, really. We’re trying to make our customers better. Yes, we want to sell products, but we want our community to be better. We have awesome products, great creativity, great quality, but it's like, what can we do besides just sell? Imagine if Gucci or Fendi cared about their customers to that level and wanted to see them do good, and not just sell to them. So, we want to usher in a new type of customer service and that type of family atmosphere with our customers.