Crafting Eyewear Legacies: Inside the World of MOSCOT

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More than a hundred years after its foundation in 1915, MOSCOT is still family-owned and run. In this interview, we sat down with Harvey and his son Zack, the fourth and fifth generation of the Moscot family, to learn why they feel so committed to keeping their heritage alive and true.

Harvey Moscot and Zack Moscot, respectively the 4th and 5th generations of the company.

Could you please share with us a bit about your background? When did you start working at MOSCOT, and what aspects of your job do you find most rewarding?

Harvey: There was never a time before MOSCOT. It’s always been MOSCOT from the day I was born. I was immersed in the business from an early age; my father and grandfather were pivotal figures in the optical industry, with my grandfather being one of the first opticians in NYC. As a fourth-generation member, optical craftsmanship runs deep in my family. I began my journey with MOSCOT during my high school years, working summers to earn some extra money. As a respectable student with a penchant for helping people, I pursued optometry, eventually joining the business with a degree in the field. Providing medical eye exams for our customers and patients in our Lower East Side Manhattan shop has become ingrained in our family’s identity. It’s not just a job; it’s a part of who we are, shaping our conversations around the dinner table and forming the backbone of our family legacy.

Zack: Growing up in a multi-generational family business blurs the lines between work and life. Whether it’s at the dinner table or a family BBQ, business discussions seamlessly weave into our everyday experiences. While I always felt drawn to the business, my passion lays more in design and creativity rather than the optical aspect. Opting out of the traditional path of becoming a doctor or an optician, I pursued my love for art and design, studying product design in college. Armed with formal training in industrial design, I became the first family member to bring a formally trained design perspective into the business. I started designing all the new collections and changed the way we spoke to our customers, embracing digital and social media channels to reach a broader audience. Collaborating with my father, who brings expertise in medical and retail aspects, we strike a balance between heritage and innovation, offering a fresh perspective to our millennial audience.

Harvey: For me, the most rewarding aspect of my job is collaborating with my son. The mutual respect we share, coupled with the opportunity to ideate and create memorable experiences for our customers, both digitally and in our brick-and-mortar stores, is immensely fulfilling. Together, we narrate our family’s story and share our passion for the business, providing customers with clarity of vision and a sense of confidence in their appearance.

Zack: Similarly, witnessing how we’ve seamlessly blended our heritage with contemporary trends and customer preferences is incredibly gratifying. In an age where authenticity is increasingly valued, seeing our customers connect with a brand that has a rich family history and a compelling narrative is truly rewarding. Moreover, observing the evolving consumer mindset, where quality and storytelling outweigh fleeting trends, reinforces our belief in the enduring value of our brand.

Harvey: The pressure of upholding our heritage is ever-present, yet it’s also a source of motivation. By embodying our core brand values and remaining true to our philosophies, we navigate this pressure with confidence. At MOSCOT, there’s no room for ego; we’re a cohesive unit driven by a shared passion for what we do. Our love for our craft and dedication to serving our customers for the right reasons fuel our journey forward.

Zack: As stewards of a multi-generational business, there’s a delicate balance between growth and preserving the integrity of our brand. While the pressure to evolve and expand is undeniable, our history and heritage serve as guiding principles. Like designing within set parameters, our business operates within guardrails shaped by tradition and innovation. This delicate dance ensures that we grow thoughtfully, maintaining the essence of MOSCOT while embracing opportunities for progress.

Hyman Moscot in front of the Rivington Street store in 1934

The Orchard street store in the 1970s

“You can take MOSCOT out of New York City, but you cannot take New York City out of MOSCOT”. What core values and beliefs does MOSCOT embody, and how do these inform the design and production of your products?

Zack: I firmly believe that the essence of our brand is deeply rooted in the Lower East Side of New York City. It’s where my great-great-grandfather set foot upon arriving in Manhattan in 1889. From the early 20th century, he began selling eyeglasses from his push-cart, a humble beginning that laid the foundation for MOSCOT. Across generations, our family has lived and worked in the Lower East Side, serving customers and embracing the vibrant spirit of downtown New York. The evolution of this iconic neighborhood is intricately woven into the fabric of our brand.

Our design ethos and style draw inspiration from this rich history. Rather than concocting a brand image in a boardroom, our identity has organically evolved over decades. The aesthetic of our shops, the curated collections, even the artifacts collected by my grandfather and his father—all bear testament to the passage of time and the authentic narrative of MOSCOT. There’s a sense of organic growth, a feeling of “stuff everywhere,” that reflects the genuine essence of our brand. Customers, whether famous or not, have contributed to this evolution, walking through our doors over generations and becoming part of our story.
Time is not just a component of our brand; it’s its very essence. The Lower East Side serves as our compass, guiding us in everything we do. As we expand beyond the confines of New York City, we carry with us the spirit of this neighborhood and the values it embodies. It’s a fusion of heritage and modernity, a celebration of authenticity that resonates with our customers worldwide

The Lemtosh, one of Moscot’s most iconic frames

What are some of your most popular or beloved products, and what do you think makes them stand out to customers?

Zack: Our most cherished and globally recognized designs are those that embody timelessness. They transcend passing trends and remain perpetually stylish. Take, for instance, our iconic frames like the Lemtosh. These frames have become synonymous with personal style for many individuals. They seamlessly integrate into their aesthetic, much like a favorite pair of jeans or a trusty suit.
What sets these beloved products apart is their enduring appeal. They don’t merely follow fleeting fashion fads; instead, they establish themselves as timeless classics. Our customers form deep attachments to these frames, often incorporating them into their everyday lives for years to come. It’s this enduring loyalty and connection that truly distinguishes our brand and makes it a cherished part of people’s lives.

Are there any particularly meaningful moments in the history of MOSCOT that you would like to share with us?

Harvey: Reflecting on pivotal moments in MOSCOT’s history, I recall Zack’s entry into the business 14 years ago as a significant event. His arrival marked a departure from tradition, being the first MOSCOT member without an optical background but armed with an industrial design degree. His fresh perspective and insightful approach breathed new life into our endeavors. On a somber note, the passing of my brother, who was my partner for many years, remains a poignant memory. However, amidst the sadness, I always fondly remember him. Conversely, a highlight was establishing a MOSCOT office and shop in Europe, a profound gesture considering our ancestral ties to Eastern Europe. This venture felt like coming full circle, infusing European locales with the essence and aesthetics of NYC. The warmth and appreciation received from European and Italian patrons for our craftsmanship and five-generation legacy are deeply meaningful. Sharing our narrative with a global audience continues to captivate and instill immense pride in me.

Zack: In essence, every launch of new collections and designs is a thrilling moment for me. Witnessing our creations come to life and observing our customers’ reactions is incredibly gratifying. Whether it’s the debut of a new website, the expansion into fresh social media platforms, or the establishment of new shops in diverse global markets, each venture ignites excitement. However, a truly monumental milestone was navigating through the challenges posed by COVID-19. As business owners, my father and I faced a daunting task of steering through the storm, ensuring the continuity of our operations, and safeguarding the welfare of our global workforce. Amidst the turmoil, we embarked on a new initiative akin to establishing a separate entity, mobilizing our resources to aid frontline healthcare workers. Providing over 5,000 pairs of prescription glasses to doctors and nurses across the country, and being featured on the cover of Newsweek alongside renowned brands, underscored the magnitude of our efforts. It was a humbling experience, affirming that we had transcended the bounds of our brand to make a meaningful impact on a larger scale.

The distinctive interior of a Moscot store

Very few businesses, especially in America, make it to the fifth generation and keep it in the family. What do you believe is your secret, and which values do you find most challenging to pass on to the sixth generation?

Zack: A significant challenge we continually navigate, albeit successfully, is preserving our family culture amidst our company’s expansion and the opening of new shops. We strive for every visitor to feel the presence of the MOSCOT family when they step into one of our stores, just as they did in our original establishments. In those early days, it was a line of MOSCOT men tending to customers behind the counter. Harvey personally conducts interviews for all shop staff, and we make a concerted effort to connect with and invest time in each new MOSCOT employee. The face of our brand, the first interaction a customer has, is the individual behind the counter. If they don’t exude the warmth, professionalism, and authenticity emblematic of the MOSCOT family, then it’s a disservice to our legacy, built over a century. So, our ongoing challenge is to ensure that every customer interaction reflects who we are and the values we’ve diligently upheld.

Harvey: Our authenticity sets us apart. We don’t strive to be trendy; instead, we remain steadfastly true to ourselves, never taking ourselves too seriously while ensuring expertise and fairness in all our dealings with customers. Upholding these values is paramount. The challenge lies in maintaining this authenticity in our physical shops, especially in the absence of family members. To address this, we invest heavily in training and sales meetings, with my personal involvement reflecting my commitment to translating our brand essence across generations.

Zack: Our customer base is diverse, ranging from those seeking fashion-forward eyewear to others relying on us for expert vision care. Beyond being a fashion accessory, our eyewear serves as a critical medical device for many, such as the 55-year-old lawyer with complex vision needs. These individuals entrust us with their vision, highlighting the depth of our service beyond mere design or storefront aesthetics.

MOSCOT Music is a special project that celebrates music, eyewear, and the creative spirit by connecting fans worldwide with emerging and established musical artists in a downtown, intimate venue like no other. Tell us more about it and how it started.

Harvey: The genesis of “MOSCOT Music” was truly organic. Music has been a passion of mine for most of my life, dating back to my teenage years when I first picked up a guitar. However, lacking vocal prowess, my father suggested pursuing optometry as a career path. It was during a slow day at one of our MOSCOT shops in the early 2000s, amid the dreary weather, that inspiration struck. I found myself strumming my guitar, accompanied by a friend who possessed the vocal talent I lacked. Passersby outside the shop paused to listen, intrigued. This serendipitous moment sparked the idea of hosting events where musicians, whether myself or bands from the vibrant lower east side or Brooklyn scene, could perform. With fewer music venues in the city at the time, our physical presence on the street provided an ideal stage. Thus, MOSCOT Music was born as a platform to introduce people to our brand through live performances, fostering a sense of community and cultural exchange. As an avid attendee of these events myself, I relished the opportunity to connect with guests over music, wine, and the MOSCOT ethos. Over time, word spread, and we began receiving inquiries from band managers eager to have their artists perform at our gatherings. What began as a natural extension of our personal interests evolved into a cornerstone of our brand identity.

Zack: It’s important to underscore the organic nature of MOSCOT Music. We didn’t pay artists to perform; many of them were already customers and part of our community. Harvey reached out to burgeoning artists among our clientele, inviting them to share their talents at our shops. Remarkably, some of these individuals, like Matt & Kim and the X Ambassadors, skyrocketed to fame in the years that followed, underscoring the symbiotic relationship between MOSCOT and the creative scene.

Harvey: That’s one of the most rewarding aspects of being situated in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Many creative individuals begin their journeys here because it’s not an overly expensive or extravagant place to reside. We, as the local optical store, have always been part of this vibrant community. Additionally, we have our own house band called the Classiconics, where I also play. I’ve always had a keen sensitivity and receptiveness to musicians who seek employment at MOSCOT. Their sensibility resonates with me deeply; there’s a shared empathy and creativity. Consequently, we have many musicians, actors, and individuals from the dramatic arts who work in our shops. Our house band consists of three core members, although the lineup has evolved over the years. We perform for events like Halloween and our Christmas party, always ensuring a good time for everyone involved.

Furthermore, we’ve been actively involved in charitable initiatives. One such initiative emerged from my belief in giving back to the city that has been so good to MOSCOT. In 2006, alongside my team, we conducted eye exams for underprivileged children and individuals recently released from jail who were starting anew and in need of eyewear. This initiative predates the era of Obamacare, when acquiring eyewear for the underprivileged was particularly challenging, with restrictions allowing only one pair every two years. Thus, we visited schools, performed eye tests, and provided eyeglasses to those in need. This commitment to philanthropy runs deep in our family; my grandfather similarly provided assistance during World War 2 and the Great Depression, distributing glasses to those in need.

More recently, we organized a charity event in New York to pay tribute to the musicians who have emerged from the Lower East Side. We were able to secure memorabilia and actual guitars from these renowned musicians, creating an exhibition where attendees could donate. All proceeds from the event went to Music Will, an incredible organization dedicated to re-establishing music programs in inner-city schools across NYC and the country. MOSCOT’s contributions were substantial enough to fund the establishment of six programs in local schools where music departments had been eliminated due to funding cuts. These programs, developed by Music Will, empower students to learn how to play instruments and engage with music. Witnessing the transformative impact of music on these students’ lives has been truly remarkable. They now have an alternative to potentially harmful activities, finding solace and expression through music. Moreover, Music Will’s engaging methodology, which involves teaching students the songs they love, ensures their continued interest and participation.

Is there a book, a movie, or a trip that has inspired your life or the creation of one of your products?

Zack: In college, I came across a book titled “Emotional Design,” which profoundly influenced my perspective on product creation. It taught me the profound impact products can have on someone’s emotions. This sentiment has always guided my approach to designing at MOSCOT because our frames are more than just eyewear; they embody a sense of family, a connection to New York City, and a piece of our unique story. Understanding this dynamic relationship between our frames and the wearer has been instrumental in both my design process and how we communicate the essence of the brand. Additionally, my travels have been a tremendous source of inspiration. As both the owner’s son and the brand’s designer, I’ve been fortunate to journey worldwide, attending shows, meeting clients in various cities, and gaining insight into global trends. Bringing these experiences back to New York allows me to infuse our designs with a global perspective, enriching our brand’s identity with diverse cultural influences. This opportunity to engage with the world firsthand is a privilege that many designers may not have, and it serves as a significant advantage for both my role as a designer and as a member of the MOSCOT team.

Harvey: A trip to the Martin Guitar Factory left a lasting impression on me. Established in the early 1900s, Martin Guitar is a multi-generational family business renowned for crafting exceptional acoustic guitars. Visiting their factory illuminated the significance of quality, loyalty, and craftsmanship in creating timeless instruments. I was struck by their unwavering commitment to detail and their dedication to preserving the essence of their craft over generations. This experience resonated deeply with me, as I own a cherished Martin Guitar from 1940—a symbol of rich history, passion, and craftsmanship. Drawing parallels between Martin Guitar and MOSCOT, I realized the importance of staying true to our heritage and maintaining our unique voice. Just as every brand has its own distinct sound, look, and feel, MOSCOT must remain mindful of its past while staying true to its core values. This means staying grounded in what we do best, avoiding the temptation to stray too far from our roots, and consistently delivering on our brand promise.

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