Sunglass maker navigates the world of luxury consumer goods
By Breanna Mroczek | June 9, 2022
The first time Karly Gramlich stepped into a Louis Vuitton store, she was infatuated by the beautiful luxury goods. “It felt like a totally different universe from my upbringing in the village of Edgerton,” Gramlich says. “I grew up with a single father, and with no connections to wealth or the luxury world.”
While pursuing a career as a dental hygienist, the transformative shopping experience stuck with her. So she decided to pursue her passion for luxury retail and founded Upper District — a sustainable luxury fashion and accessories brand — in 2017 in Edmonton. “I went all in and built the brand from scratch,” Gramlich says. “It’s been a labour of love and a very slow process, but a very thoughtful process.”
Lacking any formal training, Gramlich harnessed the power of LinkedIn to build connections with designers, manufacturers and other professionals in the luxury goods market. “I built up my personal brand — someone who values sustainability and supporting women in business — and had access to individuals I never would have met otherwise,” Gramlich says. “At the same time, I’ve had to learn and do a lot myself because I realized that, if you want something bad enough, you’re going to have to do it by yourself — no one is going to do it for you.”
Navigating the world of luxury consumer goods came with challenges. Gramlich says her first trip to Italy in search of a manufacturer was “a bust,” and she returned home to Edmonton feeling defeated and ready to give up. But, after a year of personal and professional growth, she returned and left with a manufacturing deal with De Rigo, a world leader company in the high-end sunglass industry. “Having a reputable manufacturer on board really got things rolling,” Gramlich says.
With a manufacturer in place, Upper District launched with a line of eyewear made with high quality and sustainable materials. “The thing I like about eyewear is the sense that you can put on a pair of glasses and feel a sense of confidence and protection,” Gramlich says. “Upper District’s target audience is the modern professional — those who, like me, persevere to lead a life of enrichment and success. Our eyewear is a way to give customers the confidence they need to pursue their ultimate goals in life.”
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Upper District recently formed a deal with Hudson’s Bay, and is in the process of finalizing deals with two large retailers in the United States. As the brand continues to grow, Gramlich plans to expand its accessory offerings and introduce a line of ready-to-wear apparel.
On the very last page of her goal journal, Gramlich wrote that she wanted to be part of the repertoire of houses of LVMH Group (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), perhaps the world’s best known fashion conglomerate that houses dozens of luxury brands. And, in her words, to have a really strong presence in the Parisian fashion scene and the luxury scene in Europe.
“To some, this might sound completely outlandish, but you need to have something that drives you,” Gramlich says. These goals might not be so farfetched — Gramlich is working with LVMH Luxury Ventures, the investment arm of LVMH Group that supports emerging luxury brands. Gramlich met in May with Sidney Toledano, the CEO and chairman of LVMH Luxury Ventures.
“They really value sustainability, diversity and inclusion, which have been ingrained in our brand right from the beginning.”
Sunglasses: Upper District
Makeup: Tiiu Vuorensola
Hair: Edmund Mercredi
Stylist: Caitlin — Lawless Vintage
Model: Jael Dorotan — Mode Models
Nails: Jessie Hua — The Nailkeeper
This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Edify