The Accidental Designer: Cynthia Shapiro Comes into Her Own

By Paddy Kamen

Cynthia Shapiro is a woman coming into her own power: personally and professionally. She’s been doing so all her life. A designer of frames and a highly successful businesswoman, Shapiro is multi-faceted and dynamic.

Shapiro’s mother was an artist, as is her brother, and although she has always seen herself as a creative person, it was several years before this side of her personality married the capable business woman in her.

The first step in her development was as the inside manager of Europa International, an eyewear distribution company founded by Cynthia and her husband, Alan Shapiro (now deceased). “Alan had a background in the optical industry so we took a chance on an offer of partnership to start our own distribution company,” she explains. “We never looked back.”

Shapiro might never have taken up designing, except for the fact that much of the design and production that used to be done in Europe shifted to China. “At that point, we knew what our customers wanted and I was confident that I could deliver it,” explains Shapiro, whose design aesthetic is inspired by architecture. “I love clean, straight shapes and my designs are somewhat minimal. I like things that last a long time and I look for colours that will go with everything so that the eyewear carries the customer from one season to the next.”

Europa has always created their own brands; they now have seven ophthalmic eyewear collections:Côte D’Azur, Scott Harris, Scott Harris Vintage, Michael Ryen, David Benjamin, db4k (for kids), Cinzia Ophthalmic and Adin Thomas. Shapiro heads a team of designers, with her main focus of late on Cinzia Ophthalmic. “We re-launched the collection at Vision Expo East last year. The new, more defined frames have been very well-received within the industry.”

Business savvy is a gift that Shapiro has in spades. As just one example, she pioneered a product that is now taken for granted in the optical marketplace: fashionable readers. “I could see the demographic trend toward people needing readers and realized that there was nothing attractive on the market, let alone good quality at a reasonable price.”

Shapiro’s answer to this need was innovative: she saw the link between fashionable readers and matching accessories and so created Cinzia Designs. Just as there is an outfit for every occasion, just so there is a scarf, necklace, watch, handbag and attractive reader case for every woman with Cinzia readers.

At first, optical professionals turned a cold shoulder to the Cinzia concept. “They didn’t want readers at that time,” Shapiro allows. Undaunted, she sold the collection to fashion boutiques. Designers from around the world were eager to contribute their accessories to the Cinzia collections. “This has been very creative work and quite rewarding on many levels,” says Shapiro.

Optical grade readers and sunglasses for both men and women are available within the flagship Cinzia and Trendies collections. While Cinzia tends to be more conservative, with pieces designed to appeal for many years to come, Trendies offers light-hearted and playful pieces in line with the most current colour trends and fashions.

Cinzia and the other Europa brands are distributed in Canada by Rob Soloway of Cenoco/Central Optical Company. “Rob has been in the optical laboratory business for many years and he reviews every frame from an optical perspective,” says Shapiro. “He has made many changes to our designs over the years, and we love working with him and his family.”

The majority of Cinzia readers and sunglasses allow for easy replacement of their lenses with prescription product.

Since her husband’s passing three years ago, Shapiro has taken up the challenge of meeting life in a new way. “Alan said I should pour myself into our business and I’ve done that. After a hiatus to deal with his loss, I came out of my shell and put more energy into Cinzia Designs. I’m enjoying international travel with my staff. Our son stepped up to the plate after Alan’s passing and has taken to the business with great alacrity. His presence has made my life so much warmer and I am fortunate to get to see another side of him.”

Dividing her time between the Europa International headquarters nearChicago, and the design center and showroom in Scottsdale, AZ, Cynthia Shapiro continues to create a life of meaning centered around her family and business. The accomplished businesswoman and fashion designer is someone to watch, for she marries business acumen with the creative side of life. When asked what she does for fun, outside of business, she quickly responds: “Business is my fun. My heart and soul belong to the optical business.”