Zack and Harvey Moscot at the Austin Moscot store.
MOSCOT Chief Design Officer Zack Moscot and CEO Dr. Harvey Moscot at the new MOSCOT store in Austin, Texas. — MOSCOT

Why it matters:

  • Eyewear increasingly has become a fashion accessory, and optical retailer MOSCOT is leaning into that trend, seeing its styles on a growing number of celebrities and consumers around the world.
  • MOSCOT expects to double its retail stores and grow its revenues by 50% over the next five years.
  • MOSCOT’s leaders have learned firsthand what it takes to keep a business in the family for five generations.

Great-Great Grandpa Hyman Moscot would be so proud.

The family eyeglasses business he started more than 100 years ago from a pushcart on the Lower East Side of Manhattan has not only survived, but it has thrived.

MOSCOT, the eyewear brand favored by fashionistas and worn by celebrities from Rachel Maddow to LeBron James, has become a global brand, with 13 stores in London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and other international cities, and eight locations in the United States.

The company, now led by fourth- and fifth-generation Moscots, is in a growth spurt. It opened stores in Austin, San Francisco, and Zurich this fall, and is scheduled to open its 22nd store in December in Rome.

The privately held company does not release financial details but says it has seen its revenues grow by roughly 50% in recent years, and that it expects to grow global revenues by an additional 50% by 2027.

From Lower East Side pushcart to fashion powerhouse: Burnishing its bona fides as a New York institution

The brand, and the family, made the leap from pushcart to fashion powerhouse by staying true to the values of the first generations to run the company, while welcoming the ideas and innovations of younger generations, CEO and fourth-generation company leader, optometrist Dr. Harvey Moscot, and his son and fifth-generation MOSCOT executive, Chief Design Officer Zack Moscot, told CO—.

MOSCOT has seen in recent years that its story — an optical company that can trace its roots back over 100 years, and that has been named one of New York’s oldest family businesses — is one that resonates with customers around the world.

“We had a story that was authentic and real. We were proud to say that we worked hard with our blood sweat and tears to keep this going, with pride in what our ancestors did,” Harvey Moscot said.

About 10 years ago, the Moscots began telling their New York story in new stores in international capitals around the world.

After starting with a pushcart, Hyman Moscot opened his first store on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side in 1915. That Lower East Side store has moved four times over the past century to its current location in a building the company owns at 94 Orchard Street.

We coupled this 100-year-old optical expertise we had with the brand’s very fashion-forward component. When you smash those two together, you get MOSCOT, which we found is quite unique in the industry.

Zack Moscot, Chief Design Officer, MOSCOT

MOSCOT initially entered international markets by selling its optical frames wholesale. The company soon after decided there was enough international demand to open full-service stores, with MOSCOT opticians and salespeople, first in London, followed by major cities in Europe and Asia.

The company’s original stores on the Lower East Side always had attracted international shoppers, as well as people from all over the United States, because of that neighborhood’s status as a tourist attraction and as the only shopping district in Manhattan where stores were open on Sundays, Harvey said.

The first London shop was decorated with photos and memorabilia from the original Moscot stores and told the story of the family and the brand.

“It was embraced by a global European community,” Harvey said. “People loved our story. They liked looking at the pictures, and we had that moment when we decided, ‘Let’s tell our story in other places,’” he said.

“We also had some a-ha moments along the way when we realized very few others were providing the brand and the product and the expertise we had,” Zack Moscot said. “We coupled this 100-year-old optical expertise we had with the brand’s very fashion-forward component. When you smash those two together, you get MOSCOT, which we found is quite unique in the industry,” he said.

[Read: 6 Winning (and Adaptable) Customer Acquisition Strategies From Growing Brands]

The company continues to give a nod to its Lower East Side roots and its Yiddish-speaking founder with Yiddish-inspired names of its frames, including the Klutz, Smendrik, and Nudnik.

MOSCOT began its international expansion about a decade ago, and that growth accelerated when retail real estate became more available during the pandemic.

“Spaces became available at more favorable rates, and as a conservative company that’s not highly leveraged, we had the ability and the resources to take advantage of these opportunities,” Harvey said.

The company hopes to double its retail footprint over the next five years, with a focus on international and what Harvey describes as “gateway” cities — “cities that will appreciate our urban legacy brand.”

Key to global expansion: Staffing stores with ‘empathetic, sensible’ folks who ‘don’t take themselves too seriously’

How does the company transplant the MOSCOT Lower East Side tradition of service and being the kind of neighborhood institution where everybody knows your name to shops in Zurich, Milan, or Tokyo?

“I personally meet every employee that stands behind the MOSCOT counter,” Harvey said, whether that counter is in in New York City, or in Copenhagen. While some of those meetings lately have been on Zoom, he still meets everyone, he said.

“At the end of the day I have to know that everybody that works behind our counter is empathetic, is sensible, is emotionally intelligent, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and wears the uniform, which is a smile,” Because, he said, “they’re a reflection of my family for the last 108 years.”

[Read: How Slow Fashion Is Creating Opportunities for Startups and Legacy Brands Alike]

 Exterior of the MOSCOT store in Zurich.
About 10 years ago, the Moscots began telling their New York story in new stores in international capitals around the world, including Zurich, Switzerland. — MOSCOT

Digital tools enable customers to virtually try on frames

The company first established a digital, direct-to consumer channel about 20 years ago, and that early adoption of technology helped MOSCOT when the pandemic made it essential for stores to have an online presence. During the pandemic MOSCOT implemented new technology that allowed customers to virtually try on frames, or book virtual appointments.

Zack and Harvey Moscot displayed an easy rapport during their interview with CO—, and the father and son executives say their working relationship is one reason they are confident the company could continue to survive as a family business well beyond five generations.

“The sixth generation is getting ready,” said Harvey, who has four grandchildren and a fifth on the way.

Keeping a business all in the family for more than 100 years “is all about respect,” Harvey said. “Respect for the generations that came before you, and the ones that came after you.”

“Never rest on your laurels and think about ways to improve what you’ve been doing,” he said.

Fourth and fifth generation Moscots bring optometric, design heft to C-suite

Also, to keep the next generation involved in the business, the older generation must be able to delegate, and trust, Zack said.

Bringing your own unique skill set to the business — as Harvey did as the first doctor of optometry (OD) to join a family of opticians, and as Zack did as the first designer — helps the new generation make a valuable contribution, Zack said.

“I was able to offer a skill set and advice that was new to the family. I think that’s really important for other family businesses,” he said. “Come in with something you can offer to your father or the family to help advance the business,” he said.

And it helps that “we’re friends outside of work,” added Zack. “So even before work starts, we’re already on a good wavelength and on the same page.”

Great-Great-Grandpa Hyman would be proud.

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