ABOVE: ROBERT DENNING IN NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 2014. STYLING: VANESSA CHOW. SUNGLASSES: WESTWARD LEANING. BLAZER: MARC JACOBS. SHIRT: SANDRO WHITE. TIE: BURBERRY.
To Robert Denning and Karlygash Burkitbayeva, sunglasses are more than just a statement of cool; they can also be a subtle signifier of progressive values. Starting from this idea, the pair hashed out a plan while attending Stanford Business School that they then turned into the San Francisco-based label Westward Leaning in 2011. Their approach, Denning explains, was “to integrate social issues into our brand in a way that felt authentic.” They decided upon sunglasses as the best vehicle to achieve their vision. “They are probably the only fashion product that is truly universal and non-gender-specific,” he says.
Using the classic wayfarer design as the basis of the entire collection, Westward Leaning sunglasses are characterized by contrasting inlays on the temples. Presently there are 11 models, or “themes,” to choose from. Each features inlays of a different material—such as California redwood (sustainably reclaimed), beads, turquoise, aluminum, and antler—that corresponds to a particular cause.
For every pair of Westwards sold, the company donates $10 to a related charity. The Louisiana Purchase, for example, sports brass to honor New Orleans jazz; proceeds from sales of this style go toward the Agnes Varis Jazz in the Schools program, which gives grants to jazz and blues musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina to perform at public schools. The brand’s socially conscious ethos-in tune with Silicon Valley’s can-do, will-do approach to innovation-gives political agency to the humble accessory, attainable one pair of shades at a time.
HAIR PRODUCTS: MOROCCAN OIL, INCLUDING LUMINOUS HAIRSPRAY STRONG. HAIR: FRANCO GOBBI/STREETERS. MAKEUP AND GROOMING: ASAMI TAGUCHI FOR CHANEL BEAUTÉ. SPECIAL THANKS: FAST ASHLEYS.
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