Chase Denison didn’t like his sunglasses options, so he decided to create his own.
In the spring of 2012, Chase’s grandmother had paid more than $200 on a name brand, all-matte black pair for her grandson. But Chase also wanted an all-white pair, which didn’t appear to be available.
So he wrote the company, which responded with a form letter.
“It was something along the lines of like, ‘we don’t take random requests from teens,’” Chase said. “Right when I read the email, it just all came together.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
It was then that Chase, now 18 and a senior at Apex High School, had the idea to create sunglasses that could be customized for each outfit or mood.
“No one was doing it the way that I envisioned,” he said.
Chase envisioned an affordable pair of sunglasses with interchangeable parts in different colors. He shared the idea with his family and started to plan how turn his idea into a reality. He sketched out the glasses on paper, and then cut out a prototype. The venture would turn into Chase’s second business.
Chase’s freshman year, he started a T-shirt company, 919clothing, centered on selling T-shirts with variations of rap song messages, such as “Most Dope.” Chase started that company after winning $250 from a graphic design contest, he said, and ordering some shirts to sell to his friends and later on the Internet.
“I turned selling shirts into $40,000 in sales in a year and a half,” he said.
Now, Chase is winding down 919clothing and using revenue from that venture to fund Vybe Sunglasses.
“Anyone can make a T-shirt,” he said. “That’s not proprietary at all,” compared to his glasses, in which he has a patent pending.
Chase sought help with the product engineering by posting a job on freelancing site oDesk. After about six test prototypes, he started exploring manufacturing by contacting about 100 different factories, finally settling on one in China.
“We wanted to keep it domestic, but you just can’t compete with the prices overseas,” he said.
Chase teamed up with his brother Chris Denison, a sophomore at Appalachian State University, and friend Kyle May, who is at N.C. State University.
Chase and his partners were invited to showcase their products at the Sundance Film Festival, the Academy Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards. The co-owners, however, couldn’t attend because they hadn’t had their first production run and didn’t have any samples to bring.
Chase and his partners launched on March 15 an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $39,500 to fund the first production run. As of Friday morning, the company had raised $6,924.
“If we could, we want to shy away from an investor at first because then we have to give up equity,” he said.
The campaign also includes an option to donate at a certain level and pre-order a pair of shades.
Meanwhile, Chase who plays varsity baseball for Apex, has been among the top students in his class and has received a scholarship offer from New York University, where he plans to study international business or investment banking.
Amy Denison has been impressed with her son’s focus — on school, on baseball and his business — particularly in the wake of the unexpected death of his father last fall.
Chris Denison died suddenly from a blood clot in November.
“His dad would be so proud,” his mother said.