People sometimes ask me advice on starting a business and I never know quite what to say — every situation is unique, and I’m only an expert on my own. But it does get me thinking about what I might have found useful to bear in mind when launching AHLEM’s debut collection ten years ago. I realized that so much of what I’ve learned over the past decade can be distilled into a few simple concepts that overlap and interweave with one another. Ten, actually—in honor of AHLEM’s milestone birthday.


In April 2013, I was at a professional crossroads—not a crisis but a reckoning. After years of working for fashion brands as a buyer and consultant, it was time to either commit to the track I was on or go off-roading.

Mulling all of this over rosé with friends at Cafe Charlot, I shared some rough frame sketches from my notebook. At the time I knew nothing about the eyewear industry—the production, the distribution—but my friends’ enthusiastic response gave me the push I needed to make my move. (If you had told me that just one year later we would be selling out the collection at Fred Segal and Colette I would have thought you were out of your mind.)

Nothing about this moment screamed “pivotal” at the time, but later I saw that it absolutely was. Some combination of serendipity and instinct compelled me to show up that day and share my notebook, because I sensed these friends could offer the support I needed to pursue a new path. There have been many other occasions over the years when some seemingly small decision had major, reverberating impact. Sometimes our guts can recognize the moment that our brains might miss. Trust yours.

Which brings me to number two…


I’m sure some people are able to operate one way in their professional life and another in their personal one, but that sounds…complicated. If you (for example) compost at home but pack your products in styrofoam and plastic at work, then who are you?

To avoid this kind of identity crisis, we run AHLEM the same way we live our lives: integrating instinct and actions. We intuitively prioritize long-term goals over short-term gains, going all-in on quality, craftsmanship, slow growth, minimalism in design and principle. Beyond AHLEM, these are practices that nurture and sustain our larger community. Placing integrity at the center of our philosophy clarifies our purpose and immediately removes a lot of options. Our choices become easy.

When AHLEM became the first eyewear company to eliminate single-use plastics in 2021, I was proud not because it was a feather in our cap but because it was a long-overdue corrective for an industry with shockingly wasteful practices. When other companies followed suit, we didn’t feel competitive—we were delighted! AHLEM has always been about the bigger picture, and moving in the direction of progress, however incrementally, is a collective win.


Since childhood I’ve carried a sketchbook with me to take notes or make drawings during the downtime or when something catches my eye. Jotting down ideas became a reflexive gesture, the way some people might whip out their phone. My sketchbook is a space with no agenda attached, where I’m free to let my mind roam—and probably because of that, some of my best ideas originate there. Give it a shot—you never know when inspiration might strike.


If I waited until the world invited me to launch an eyewear company, I’d still be waiting.

Maybe this seems obvious, but it still bears repeating: If you want to create something, shed your timidity and go for it. So many people, and especially women, are conditioned from a young age to defer to others, to wait in line, to obey invented systems. A big chunk of running an independent business—and, I would argue, of being an authority in your own life—boils down to the ability to deviate from conventional scripts and take action. The good news is, anyone can do it.


Before launching AHLEM, I cold-called five factories to ask about producing a line. Four of them never returned my call. The fifth answered, and we ended up working together for years. In the lead-up to launching AHLEM, I showed up at trade fairs and sought out industry veterans, bombarding them with questions (I think they were amused by “the crazy French girl”). My husband and I drove to factories around France with no real strategy beyond learning the ropes. But we always figured it out. Instead of shooing me away, these artisans and distributors welcomed me. It turns out, people enjoy sharing their knowledge with those who are genuinely interested. They were extraordinarily generous with their time and expertise, and I’m grateful to every single one of them.


Networking is a cynical term for a practical reality. You never know how the people you meet and befriend along the way will come back around. Acquaintances, former colleagues, family friends, even neighbors — these are the allies who have saved me again and again, and for whom I gladly return the favor any time.

It’s worth noting that these connections all come from real life rather than the conference room of a PR company or a headhunting search on LinkedIn. Andreas, who I worked with at Acne when we were just kids, recently designed our beautiful Paris atelier. AHLEM’s first factory partner (the one who answered my call back in the pre-launch days!), Ludo, referred me to our current factory when AHLEM outgrew his facility’s production capacity. A spirited conversation with Leon Bridges at the CFDA awards led to our first-ever design collaboration. From the beginning, we have almost exclusively hired and collaborated with people based on word-of-mouth and personal relationships, from our office staff and production factories to brand partners. It has worked for us so well that I see no reason to ever change.


I mean this in every sense. Simplify your process, your designs, your communication, your wardrobe, your relationships. Invest in objects and experiences and people you love and don’t stress the rest. The amount of space and calm this will create in your life can be put toward bigger endeavors. It won’t feel austere; it will feel enriching.

In the metaphor of design, ornament is a distraction that can conceal a multitude of sins, whereas with the minimalist approach you have nowhere to hide a flaw. Likewise, when we accumulate a lot of distractions in our lives , we may be masking some core aspect that needs attention. The extra “stuff,” whether objects or obligations, can prevent us from seeing and fixing the underlying problem.


You can’t manufacture luck, but there’s a lot you can do to actively encourage it. Even though I had no specific experience in eyewear before launching AHLEM, my background in fashion put me in the orbit of people who did. My yearly travels to Japan inadvertently set the stage to produce our first titanium collection there; my obsession with coffee led to a book project with Mihaela Iordache, head roaster at Belleville Brûlerie. It is easier to penetrate new worlds when you are already adjacent to them.


Sometimes you need to be single-minded to hit an immediate target; other times you need to relax, step back and take in the panoramic view. In the lead-up to releasing AHLEM’s first collection I had been so monofocused on getting the frame prototypes ready that I had completely overlooked the fact that we had no cases to put them in (luckily, my network came to the rescue at the 11th hour: I still owe you, Queenie!).

Learning when to sharpen and soften my focus has been an education all its own, and I try to include some intensity variation in each day. And I mean this quite literally — sometimes a walk, gallery visit or a coffee with friends can loosen the knottiest work problems. Perhaps it seems counter-intuitive, but releasing the unconscious to wander (in the form of walking away for a few hours) has often led to the quickest solutions in the end.


Paris is in my DNA, but every place I’ve lived and visited informs my perspective and adds something new to my approach. Working for Swedish brands in my twenties I learned so much about simplification, about how paring back to essential form and function can paradoxically amplify effect. I loved the laid-back attitude of Venice Beach, and found the California mid-century modernism so appealing in its weightlessness and lack of pretension—a perfect counterpoint to the historic grandeur of Parisian architecture. Over the years, Japan has emerged as my spiritual home, a place where simplicity and craftsmanship radiate on all levels, from the city planning to the design of a pencil. Japan is where I feel completely safe and free—and when you feel safe, your brain can flow.