Sue Randhawa is the owner and one of the main creative forces of The Optical Boutique, Vancouver’s foremost luxury eyewear destination. An all-around powerful woman, Sue shamelessly wears herself on her sleeves. She is bold, brave, and unafraid to make a strong fashion statement. We talked to Sue about her origins and inspirations in the eyewear business, the fashion seen in Vancouver, and the importance of expressing yourself through style without worrying about what others think.
Moda & Estilo: Tell us a bit about how you became an optician? Why did you get into eyewear?
Sue Randhawa: I have been an optician for 25 years, starting out when I was in my early twenties. I got into this field initially because science was at the heart of it. I was wanting to get into a health based profession where I could be part of a solution to someone’s problems. I know that it sounds very cliché, but I wanted to help people.
M&E: Are you from Vancouver originally? Where did you grow up? Tell me a bit about your personal history.
SR: I was born in India and came to Canada at a very young age, my family settled on the East side of Vancouver. I remember as a young child being in the hub of a cultural melting pot, I was intrigued by everything going on around me at the time: the Habitat Movement of 1976, the BeeGees, bell bottoms, and platforms. I was only about 10 so I wasn’t quite old enough to be part of anything, but the fashion captivated me.
M&E: How important is style to you?
SR: Style continues to be important to me because it’s an extension of who I am. I’m very fortunate because I’ve been able to incorporate my two passions, science and fashion, into what I do every day.
M&E: How would you describe your personal style?
SR: My personal style would be described as bold or strong by some people. I have a very definitive way of dressing, I can go from one extreme to another. I don’t follow any set trends, I tend to wear what makes me feel good. I like to express who I am through my clothes.
M&E: Your style is very bold. Why is that more interesting to you than something more subdued?
SR: Why do I tend to be more bold than subdued? I think that comes from wanting to express my strength. I want people, women in particular, to know that they too can be strong enough and brave enough to wear whatever they like. They don’t need to follow any fashion rules. It’s about learning to express who you are at your core, you can be soft spoken or loud, shy or assertive. You don’t need to fit any fashion mold. Be strong enough to create your own mold. Use fashion as a way to express your mood, your taste, and your creativity. Just because you get to a certain age doesn’t mean it’s time for you to start fading away!
M&E: You have a very interesting way of mixing traditional Indian clothing with Western designers? What compels you to do that? Is it important to represent your heritage?
SR: Fashion has no rules for me. It’s as simple as that. I mix polka dots with stripes with squares with flowers. I mix up Indian jewelry with Western pieces all the time. I’m not afraid of the Fashion Police coming after me. People get very hung up on what other people think. I say, “Don’t over think fashion.” Just do what pleases you. I’m Indian and very proud of my heritage. I hope I represent that every day, but I don’t make a conscious decision to incorporate it into my look for the day.
M&E: What’s the key to finding eyewear that’s fits an individual?
SR: It’s not so simple. When somebody comes in to see me I like to make my recommendations based on their features. I look at their skin tone, bone structure and face shape. I ask questions about their lifestyle. I want to know a little bit about their personal sense of style. I listen to their wants and needs. The chosen frames have to work with all of this and most importantly the Rx and of course the budget.
M&E: You’re always wearing glasses of some sort. What does eyewear add to a person’s overall style? Aside from functional benefits, what does it add stylistically?
SR: The right pair of eyeglasses can change your look so dramatically. Never before have eyeglasses been as popular as they are now. I’m having a lot of fun right now doing what I’m doing because people are realizing the impact and power of having the right pair. This is where the fashion component comes into it. I have women coming in to see me that are wanting to change their look stylistically. They know that glasses are the first thing that anybody is going to see or notice on them. They know that it makes sense to have more than one pair of glasses now. This is where I often give my clients fashion advice ranging from a recommendation on a haircut to putting an outfit together.
M&E: Do you see Vancouver as a stylish place? What sets it apart from the rest of the world?
SR: I would say that Vancouver as a city is too laid back to be stylish. Our climate and location puts us in a position where most of us would rather hit the mountains to ski or the ocean to sail. Saying that though, I see the fashion front changing and Vancouver developing as a place where fashion is definitely setting a tone. The development of eco friendly designers in the city is amazing. We’re seeing great talent coming from the fashion schools.
M&E: What are your favorite haunts in the city?
SR: My store is in Kerrisdale and I love that area because it’s old and quaint. It dates back over 100 years and for Vancouver that’s historical! I also love Gastown for its great restaurants like L’Abattoirand Chambar. Reflections rooftop patio at the Hotel Georgia is another great place.
M&E: Who are some of your favorite designers internationally and locally?
SR: My favorite international designers would be I think Dries van Noten, Comme des Garçons. I like Céline and Marni as well. Locally in Vancouver, I would say that the genius of Evan Clayton is pretty amazing. Evan Ducharme is another favorite.
M&E: What’s your favorite part about attending fashion shows?
SR: My favorite part about attending the fashion shows in Vancouver is that I love to show my support for the young emerging designers like Evan [Clayton] and Evan [Ducharme]. Connally McDougall is another amazingly talented designer that I met at VFW in March. The caliber of designers that showcased their designs this year set the bar very high. I draw inspiration from speaking to them and finding out about their goals and ambitions, and I want to see them succeed.