A South Shore company continues the family tradition of manufacturing stylish military-grade eyewearBY ADAM TOKARZ • PHOTOGRAPHY BY DERRICK ZELLMANN
A nondescript brick building sits a stone’s throw away from bustling Route 139 in Randolph. Most people wouldn’t give it a second glance. Behind its front doors, however, lies a highly intricate, well-oiled world where the faint hum of machinery is ever-present, talented groups of diligent workers perfect their craft, and the American dream is alive and well. This is Randolph Engineering.
A family-run business, Randolph Engineering designs and manufactures handcrafted, high-quality eyewear worn by military personnel and celebrities alike. Its founding members, Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski, met while working at a South Boston tool and die factory in the early 1960s and started their own company a decade later, designing and building tools and machinery for the U.S. optical manufacturing industry. Eventually, they began producing their own eyewear, manufacturing Mil-Spec Aviator sunglasses for the United States Air Force. Today, Randolph offers a variety of products in metal and acetate sunglasses, sport-shooting eyewear and prescription frames.
“We’ve got a great history here,” says Peter Waszkiewicz, Jan’s son and current president and CEO of Randolph. “We’ve been supplying the military [with aviator sunglasses] since 1978 indirectly, 1982 directly, and we continue to supply our U.S. troops with eyewear to this day. Recently, we were awarded our new five-year contract. It’s still a big part of our business, and it’s our heritage.”
During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the United States government approached Randolph to manufacture custom eyeglass inserts for gas masks. In order to meet demand, Randolph ran an aggressive three-shift schedule, seven days a week. “Every single soldier and civilian that was sent over into that region had to have a gas mask,” Peter recalls. “And if you wore corrective vision, you had to have an optical insert that fit inside the gas mask. So we were making 10,000 a month under contract. And they called us one day and said, ‘We don’t need 10,000, we need 50,000.’ What?!” he chuckles, shaking his head.
“I was a zombie,” he admits. “I think I was probably sleeping a couple of hours a night at that pace. We all were. And you know something? My dad never raised the price. His point was that we were doing our parts as civilians to support our country and our troops, and I thought that was unbelievable of him.” The government shared his sentiment and traveled to Randolph to present the company with an Operation Desert Storm certificate of appreciation for their service during wartime.
While the military aspect of the company’s history remains an important constant, it’s now being leveraged in a slightly different “fashion.” In the last decade, the team at Randolph has begun a dedicated push to position themselves in the commercial market, using their durable, military-issue design as a selling point. Their high-end aviators are sold everywhere from Nordstrom to Newbury Street shops in Boston, and they have a robust online presence to boot.
So what makes them unique? Randolph is the only American-made metal eyewear company in existence today, save for a few entrepreneurial upstarts who may create a couple hundred pairs a year. By comparison, Randolph can produce, during its busy season (April-June before the summer commercial crush) up to 3,000 pairs in a single day.
Nearly everything, save for a few small items, is manufactured and assembled in-house at Randolph’s facility, a 24,000-square-foot space that includes the team’s offices, manufacturing floor, assembly room and inventory storage area. Engineering manager Richie Zaleski, Stanley’s son, oversees the operation. “We develop and manufacture all of our product here in Randolph,” Richie says, explaining that they start with computer-generated models. “We have a fully capable CAD software program. We have a technician that does all of the prototyping, the renderings.”
Throughout the two-level building, over 40 skilled technicians work on various stages of production, assembling, soldering, polishing and quality-checking every piece of eyewear before it’s packed to ship. More than 200 painstaking production steps, most done by hand, ensure premium quality. There’s a great amount of time and pride that goes into each piece of eyewear, and the beauty of the finished product is evidence of that.
Randolph’s classic styling and durable construction have endeared them to some of Hollywood’s finest, including a couple of Toms: Cruise and Selleck. The eyewear has appeared in numerous films (most recently in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated American Sniper) and television programs like Mad Men and Blue Bloods (Boston native Donnie Wahlberg often dons Randolph’s aviators in his role as a policeman). Even local athletes have been getting in on the fun, including Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who, according Richie, had his pair custom-built to fit his “larger-than-most” head.
Randolph also produces an RE Ranger series of glasses, designed to enhance targets for skeet shooting and sport hunting. Their well-respected product has been used by Olympic medalists during competition.
The push to steer the business towards a consumer market stemmed from the vision of former CEO Richard Waszkiewicz, Peter’s late brother, who recognized the value of a commercial presence in the 1990s.
“It was his vision to start a commercial branded eyewear line,” Peter says. “I lost him to cancer back in 2009. I often think he’s up there smiling down on us because we’re making his dream come true.” And while Randolph Engineering has been making a concerted effort to expand its consumer brand presence nationally, increasing its spend in advertising and outreach, it has also begun making waves in the global market.
“We’re currently sold in over 40 countries and have distribution relationships in 12 countries, including France, Germany, the UK, China and Spain,” says senior vice president of sales and marketing Ekene Ofodile.
Despite their blooming global sales presence, Peter feels, it’s important to stay “Made in America.” “Back in the ‘70s, over 93 percent of the frames sold in the United States were actually manufactured [here],” he says. “Then, like the textile industry, everything went overseas. It was all about the profit margin, the bottom line. We were one of the very few who decided to stay. We like to think that we’re on the forefront of bringing eyewear manufacturing back to this country.”
Today, the company has third-generation Zaleski and Waszkiewicz family members working at Randolph, doing their part to continue the hardworking, handcrafted legacy their grandfathers started (Stanley retired in 2013, and Jan passed away in December at the age of 96). “Their American dream, and the legacy they left behind, we’re carrying that on,” Peter says. “We’re building on their integrity and passion.”
And where does the company see itself in the future? Sarah Fawle, director of global marketing, is excited about the creativity and innovation that’s emerging from the new product lines. “Our spring collection is our first foray into really progressive aviator styles, complete with different brow bar angles and more frame colors,” she says. “I think adding product will continue to push us forward in the consumer mindset.”
While some things may change and evolve with time, the quality will always remain the same, promises Peter. “Here, it’s all about craftsmanship. There’s a story behind our product. And people appreciate that.”