Russell Campbell turned a lifelong passion for vintage eyewear into a business--literally overnight. In 1984, while searching for the right career, the then-20-year-old awakened as usual at 2 a.m. to write down his dreams. This time, he penned that an old man handed him a pair of sunglasses and said, "Here, you can have these old focals."
"I don't know what Freud would say about it," Campbell says, but after discussing the dream with his family the next day, he quickly moved forward with his entrepreneurial vision. After a thorough search of local thrift shops and garage sales, he turned up a couple dozen retro frames and fitted them with new lenses. With his sights on success, Campbell bravely peddled his reconditioned products at shops in the toniest parts of L.A. (including Santa Monica and Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive).
Today, his Pasadena, California, company, Old Focals, has caught the eye of a sizzling niche market: Hollywood, whose prop departments frequently call on Campbell's research expertise when it's time to outfit actors with era-appropriate eyewear. "Movies found me," says Campbell, who relies solely on word-of-mouth advertising. His limited-edition styles appear in such films as "Tucker," "JFK," the "Batman" film series and "Mod Squad." Every pair of glasses he supplies for movies also comes with three backup pairs, in case of breakage.
With an ever-growing warehouse inventory of tens of thousands of styles, Campbell's successful business even provides frames for TV commercials and music videos, and hopes to expand sales through Old Focals' Web site. Campbell recently opened a retail location in trendy Old Town Pasadena, where 18- to 24-year olds flock for vintage and reproduction styles at prices ranging from $25 to $200.
In keeping with his passion for spectacles, Campbell regularly sponsors overseas visual aid trips, donating medical supplies, equipment and transportation. And when it comes to achievement in the business, he admits that sometimes his eyes are bigger than his stomach: "Every now and then I bite off more than I think I can chew [think 400 pairs of eyeglasses for `That Thing You Do']," Campbell says. "Being able to swallow it is success."