Eco-friendly and sustainable eyewear and leather bags are coming to NoDa as Johnny Fly Co. opens its first brick and mortar retail store on July 19.
After five years of hosting their business online, owners John and Tara Freeman decided it was time to open a storefront. And as Charlotte locals and NoDa patrons, there is no place in the world that they’d rather start a store.
With eyewear being Johnny Fly’s main focus, it also makes sense that customers would want to come to the store in person to try on the products.
“We tried a pop-up location for the holidays over at Birkdale just because it was near our warehouse and it exceeded our expectations,” Tara said. “When we closed, we had five people a day showing up there. So we tried to make a little showroom and we knew then that people were excited about the brand, so it was no question for us to open a storefront after that.”
The store will sell everything seen online as well as a number of different beta models and small batch runs that are specific and are very exclusive to the NoDa store.
“I think it will be a great way to test those beta models,” Tara said. “A couple times a year, we go do a rotation of beta models and it’s hard to get customer feedback whenever you’re an online store.”
As a sort of eyewear “collector,” John began to learn more about the industry and allowed sunglasses to take over the brand about five years ago.
“I wanted to make millions of wood products,” John said. “If I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea, I would go hop on my laser and make a prototype.
“We had so many different random things and thank god for my wife, Tara, because she was a very structured mind and she came along and said, ‘Hey, quit doing a bunch of stuff good and do what you do great, and focus on it and try and grow it,’ and that’s really when the brand took a turn to where it is now.”
Leather came along about a year and a half ago, but the owners had been considering the idea for two and a half years.
John and Tara didn’t originally believe that leather products were something that they could launch due to the growth of eyewear. But they did it while still following the theme of being eco-friendly by using chromium-free leather. The products are instead tanned with salt water bark and sunlight and all handmade one at a time using fair trade labor.
“We both come from entrepreneurial Charlotte local brick and mortar business backgrounds in our families, so to actually have our own stand that we are doing here is really special to us,” John said. “It’s part of the dream that I never really knew or thought we’d ever see, and now that the signs are up it’s nearly emotional that we can be here and be a part of the city that we love.”
Johnny Fly Co.: 519 E. 36th Street
Photos: Johnny Fly Co.