By Todd Childs
For more than 20 years, Kris Childs has made it her business to ensure that her clients can be seen as well as they can see. That business is iiis. an optical shop.
The New Orleans native turned Birminghamian was the mother of two college-aged daughters when a friend suggested in the early 1990’s that they open an eyewear shop.
“I said, ‘Why not?’ I knew nothing about optical, but I had a sense of style that begged to be expressed,” Kris said.
It’s hard to imagine Kris’ sense of style ever had to beg for expression. From the earthy-modern interior of the 1,000-square-foot shop nestled in the historic 5 Points South neighborhood to her own funky, layered garb, it is apparent that, when it comes to fashion, she is a player not a bystander – and certainly not a follower.
“Twenty four years ago I observed the traditional climate in Birmingham,” she explained. “Being from New Orleans, I had an influence of individuality and expression of uniqueness. It was a time in eyeglass choices where there was the whisper of the idea of exploring an alternative range from traditional because of the creative design teams that were emerging, but this didn’t exist in Birmingham yet. I found the challenge of seeing if I could present a store to the community that would raise the level of awareness to this idea of more unique ways to express themselves. I also wanted to show the options that were available without having to travel to Chicago or New York or Los Angeles.”
There is no question that in the past decade eyeglasses have become a definite fashion accessory rather than a practical necessity to be aesthetically worked around.
These days, guys do, indeed, make passes at girls who wear glasses and four eyes are, well, hip. iiis has embraced this cultural shift and creates an inspiring space for clients to experiment with their own self-expression.
Glasses are not merely a tool, but rather a piece of functional art and the shop imparts a gallery-like feel to underscore this philosophy.
“No matter the age of the person that walks into iiis, we watch their body language and hear their reactions to what it feels like being in the shop,” Kris said.
Being inside the shop is much like being inside Kris’ mind; a symphony of perfectly choreographed chaos that at once relaxes and stimulates. It is a collection of memories tucked among the glasses; photographs of customers, thank you notes and the occasional empty bottle of
something bubbly that once helped a client toast their new look.
The goal is not only to sell glasses, but to create an experience.
“We play good music and keep a small television on in a position where the customer can watch current news or sports events,” Kris said. “This has become a very important tool at times when the optician is working on a difficult adjustment or trying to solve a problem.”
This vision (no pun intended) and creative environment has helped to grow a customer base of more than 15,000 clients across the country and internationally. Such names as JFK Jr., Lenny Kravitz and former President Bill Clinton are among the past visitors to iiis.
Using her background in marketing and fashion, Kris designs a line of eyeglass hangers, which she calls “chilos” that stylishly suspend one’s spectacles around the neck when not on the nose. The shop, like fashion, continues to evolve.
iiis prides itself on catering to the most ardent traditionalist and the most fearless fashion plate. All tastes and attitudes are represented, from boomer to millennial.
“From one end of the spectrum to the other, our eyeglasses can satisfy all needs. About two years ago, there was a surge back into traditional styles and many design teams began to offer their contribution to that look, but funky and mod continues to be popular as well. Color, texture, pattern, shape and size are very ‘now.’ From minimal to exaggerated! Then, so is classic tortoise shell and blacks that have variations that speak to the history of design, but with a modern interpretation,” Kris said with characteristic enthusiasm. “What is ‘now’ is absolutely a bit of everything!”
iiis. an optical shop is at 1925 11th Ave. South, or find it on Facebook.