After selling her first company Nyx Cosmetics to L'Oreal for an estimated $500 million in 2014, Toni Ko should probably be enjoying her retirement on a beach somewhere. But not even one year after the sale, Ko found herself restless and looking to start another brand. "I took exactly 365 days off," she tells Fashionista with a laugh. "The day I sold my company to L'Oreal was July 30 [of 2014], and I started working on the business plan for [Perverse Sunglasses] on August 1 ."
With a non-compete from L'Oreal in play, Ko couldn't re-enter the realm of cosmetics, so she had to step back and consider other fields that excited her. Fashion was the obvious choice, but with multitudes of sizes and options, clothing and shoes were deemed too complicated. Then Ko found inspiration in her extensive collection of sunglasses (she owns over 100 pairs). She took a look around and noticed there was a huge gap between the cheap sunnies on offer from the Forever 21s and H&Ms of the world and the pricey designer pairs from eyewear powerhouse Luxottica.
"When I was studying the industry and doing research, I realized why sunglasses are so very expensive," she says. "They should not be so expensive because the base material is plastic! Plastic is plastic, right? Yes, they're high quality plastic, they're high quality hinges, but you're basically paying for the brand. The sunglass business is a $36-billion global industry, and it's owned by one company that [controls] 85 percent of the market share; they dominate the market completely, the own the brand, they own the store, they own everything, so they get to name the price."
Thus, Perverse Sunglasses was born. Most of the brand's offerings clock in under $60, and go way beyond the standard black, brown, and tortoise colorways that are traditional in the category. Ko and her team apply the same color theory she used in cosmetics to put together trend-based eyewear in every color of the rainbow. It should come as no surprise that Perverse is targeting the millennial generation — "Our target demographic is the 25-year-old, but it's also the 15-year-old who wants to be 25 and the 35-year-old who wants to be 25," Ko says — and to that end, the brand officially launched at Coachella in April. It can only help that the line already has fans in PYTs like Cara Delevingne, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Zoe Kravitz.
"One third of the American population consists of millennials — 92 million millennials in the U.S. alone," Ko says. "The new generation, they're not going to be a walking brand ambassador for these overly expensive designer brands; millennials are going to spend money on what they believe in, and the millennial generation actually cares about the value versus the cost."
Already, Perverse has shown impressive growth: After conceiving of the brand in August of last year, Ko went to China and mined her former cosmetics contacts to find resources in eyewear (she connected with her supplier this way), opening offices for Perverse Sunglasses in October 2015 with a secured supply chain. The brand has plans for five brick-and-mortar locations in the Los Angeles area (one is already open in Larchmont), with hopes for an additional rollout of 125 more nationwide over the next five years, and tentative plans to partner with select retailers.
But that's not enough for Ko, who has high ambitions for the line. "I want Perverse to be the next, coolest, hottest, sexiest brand in the eyewear industry," she says. "I want the entire 92 million [millennials], plus the other two-thirds of America, to know about Perverse sunglasses, and going forward, I want it to be a global brand."