The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
Meet Rebecca Harwood Lincoln, the soft-spoken optics and sunglasses specialist who focuses on Business Development and Travel Retail Director at Swiss Eyewear Group.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Bristol in the Southwest of the UK and moved around a lot as a child as my father was an academic and he went on sabbatical every few years. So we lived in various cities in the UK, as well as France and Germany. Unusually, living in the UK, German was my first language as my mother is German and my father is American.
I didn’t appreciate it as a child, but I was very lucky to have such an international upbringing.
2. You studied at the University of Strathclyde… why Glasgow and what career plans did you have in mind?
Glasgow is an amazing city. It’s vibrant and down to earth and I still love to visit it now.
I applied to Strathclyde University as I liked the flexibility of the course. I had initially planned to study Sociology and Politics but quickly realised that of the subjects I was taking in the first year I enjoyed the marketing, French and Russian most of all.
I transferred to Strathclyde University Business School and ended up graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Marketing and Modern Languages. During my degree I lived in Bordeaux and Moscow, which were both amazing experiences, and allowed me to improve my languages as well as learn about different cultures.
I am still in touch with Strathclyde University, as I am a founder member of their Business Fellow Network and enjoy the opportunity to lecture on their undergraduate and Master’s programmes.
My love of fashion resulted in my first job out of university, when I joined the Scottish Enterprise Textiles Team. I was working with Scottish manufacturers and, as my grandmother had taught me to sew and make clothes from a very early age, that was a perfect first job for me.
3. What prompted your move into the eyewear business?
I met John, my husband, in Glasgow while we were both learning to dance ceroc (for those who don’t know, ceroc is a type of social dance with elements of rock and roll, jive, and salsa). Shortly afterwards I surprised myself, and many others, by following John to San Francisco where he was starting a new job.
Initially I worked as a temp in a recruitment agency but then I got a job at Revo, a high-end polarised sunglasses company. That marked my entry into the eyewear business.
I worked on the product development team developing new collections. It was a very exciting time in my life; I was working with a great product and returning frequently to Europe to meet with suppliers.
When we moved back to the UK three years later I continued to work for Revo until our first son was born. Then our second son was born two years later and I waited until they were both at school before returning to work.
I was very lucky as I got the first job that I applied for and joined Polaroid Eyewear where I was responsible for UK sales and later became Travel Retail Manager… and got my first taste of the world of travel retail.
I spent a year as the Marketing Manager of Inspecs, working closely with brands such as Superdry and O’Neill. But I missed the thrill of the sale. Fortunately, I was lucky again. My former colleagues at Polaroid had set up an eyewear company; they gave me the opportunity to join the Swiss Eyewear Group in 2014.
4. Tell us what drew you to Swiss Eyewear Group.
Swiss Eyewear Group is an amazing company. Its founders have built up a significant eyewear business both in branded and private label collections.
Although our head office is in Zürich, we have over 50 staff members who are based in offices around the world. Our INVU ultra-polarised sunglasses are sold in over 90 countries worldwide and in just over four years we have sold over 5 million sunglasses.
The INVU range was created as we saw the need for a high-quality range of polarised sunglasses in the impulse purchase segment. We realised that not everyone wants to pay a premium price for their sunglasses. So INVU was born, and has been flourishing ever since with the help of Newthing Limited, who represent us in the travel retail channel.
What I love about Swiss Eyewear Group is that, even though we are growing rapidly, we are still flexible. Everyone is empowered and makes a difference to the business. The team is dynamic; it’s very international and, best of all, our INVU sunglasses are amazing. I never tire of watching customers try on our sunglasses for the first time, and their reactions when they experience the INVU lenses.
It’s always interesting at TFWA World Exhibition as we meet our customers onboard the Indulgence of Poole yacht. The sun and the glare combine to provide the perfect setting for trying and testing sunglasses.
“In travel retail, I really don’t understand the emphasis on the premium segment.”
5. What are your thoughts on the development of the eyewear category?
Since I started working in the travel retail channel I would say that the eyewear category has grown in terms of retail sales and that buyers now recognise the need to have a wider offering of sunglasses.
In travel retail, I really don’t understand the emphasis on the premium segment. I believe customers want mid-priced products too, and many will spend the same amount of money buying three or four pairs of mid-priced sunglasses instead of one pair of premium-priced sunglasses.
The sale of polarised sunglasses is still the largest-growing segment within the sunglasses category, and I am very happy about that.
6. Is it fair to say that optics run in your family now?
Yes, you could say that. My husband runs his own business in photonics and optics, so his side of optics is highly technical, and my side is fashion related. I’ve definitely got the better deal, though I’m not sure he would agree!
We both work at home, and bounce ideas off one another, which is great for giving each other objective feedback, but also for our quality of life.
7. Do you have a mentor?
In the travel retail channel, it definitely has to be Row Holland of Essential Communications. Since I started working with Row at Polaroid Eyewear ten years ago she has helped me develop our travel retail business.
Row is exceptionally well connected. I appreciate that she is always available at the end of the phone for advice as well as coming up with great ideas for promotions and marketing activities. In addition to this,the speed with which she drafts PR text is quite impressive.
On a personal level I am very lucky that I have both friends and family that I can go to for support and advice. The only problem is that as I have travelled a lot my closest friends live abroad, and so we have to rely on Skype and WhatsApp to keep in touch.
8. How important is networking in travel retail?
It is essential. In fact, I am not aware of any other industry where the networking is so important.
This is why Swiss Eyewear Group is actively involved in the Travel Retail Consortium (I am currently the Chairperson). Previously I was also involved in Women in Travel Retail (WiTR), and I would definitely get involved again if I went to more travel retail conferences.
9. And how important is giving back?
I have always been a big believer in giving back to society. I have had a number of non-executive director roles including as a school Governor in numerous schools and as a trustee of a local youth music ensemble.
My role as a school Governor is a strategic one, but I am also proactive and come into school regularly which I find helps me with decision making at meetings.
“My friends will tell you that I’m a passionate gardener; I love to grow flowers. I would be in my garden 24/7 if I had the time and the sun didn’t set.”
My youngest son is actively involved in the local youth music ensemble where he plays saxophone in numerous orchestras and a jazz band. I first got involved as a Trustee when the funding structure changed, and I wanted to ensure that the ensemble did not close. To my delight it continues to grow from strength to strength and I love to see (and hear) the local children and teenagers benefit from the opportunity to make music together and, most importantly, have fun.
I love the theatre, contemporary dance and music and volunteer as an usher at our local Art Centre where I also get to watch the performance.
10. Is there a Rebecca Harwood Lincoln philosophy to life?
A work-life balance has always been important to me and that’s why I work from home. And yet I still get the benefit of being able to travel and see the world for both business and pleasure.
My friends will tell you that I’m a passionate gardener; I love to grow flowers. I would be in my garden 24/7 if I had the time and the sun didn’t set. We have an allotment and my husband loves to grow vegetables. He frequently brings me home a wheelbarrow of fruit and vegetables for me to process. And I get a lot of pleasure from doing that.
With all the vegetables we grow, I’m lucky to also love my food, and I am a very keen cook. We often cook as a family so our kids get involved too; that’s great family time together.
In my spare time I love to walk. In fact we are all walkers and recently spent ten days in the Spanish Pyrenees. As a family, we’ve also spent many summers walking in the Austrian, Swiss and Italian Alps, and skiing there in the winter too.
I’m quite creative and, as I have mentioned, have always sewed a lot. Making my own clothes is a winter pastime. I don’t do it as much as I used to before we had kids but expect that I will do more again when they leave home.
And I still dance. Each week I go to my ceroc class and I love it. It’s relaxing and I’m exercising at the same time.
So, my philosophy is family first. Find a job that you love, and if you don’t like something about your life, be proactive and make an effort to change it.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: