Julie Allinson is the kind of person who says quirky things like “I can’t see beans!” and “Oh, my flipping lord!” She has a big laugh and infectious energy. Spend an hour with this month’s guest and you will feel like someone has supercharged your battery. She will tell you can do it (whatever it may be) and you will believe that’s true.
At 42 years old, Allinson launched Eyebobs, a line of reading glasses with personality plus after looking for eyeglass frames she liked and discovering they were crazy expensive. Her Minneapolis-based company celebrated its 16th year in 2017, and has grown from a two-person team to a team of 50. It now also sells prescription eyewear in addition to affordable reading glasses for women and men, as well as accessories — glasses cases, lariats, and fun stuff like bookmarks and playing cards — online and in retail boutiques all over the country.
Allinson, now 59, stepped down from running Eyebobs earlier this year to take some time to figure out what’s next in her life. We might suggest a stint as a motivational speaker, for we certainly felt inspired after our conversation with the lady whom Forbes magazine once called “an irreverent boomer.”
Here, she shares not only why she’s passionate about fun frames but also about life.
Since eyeglasses are your business, let’s start there. How should we be thinking about the inevitability that all of us are going to end up wearing glasses?
Eyewear is an accessory, and it tells so much about your personality. It can also convey a message. You can wear a serious pair. You can wear a bright and beautiful pair. It’s fun to have things that go with your outfit. Everybody goes to shape, but to me, shape is secondary. To me, it’s all about the color. Wear color. Have fun. Life is too short.
The great thing about Eyebobs is that they are no more expensive than a good pair of shoes — and your feet are tucked under a table. Our customers start out with reading glasses, but we now have long-time customers who are wearing Eyebobs for their prescriptions.
Forbes wrote that you have a “whimsical spirit.” Is that how you see yourself in the world?
I am not sure that I do have a whimsical spirit. What I like is to hang out with people who make me laugh! What it’s really about is plain speak and just being who I am. Why not be who you are? Why not be genuine and true to yourself? Whether we are in a business meeting or just talking about life, I want you to understand who I am.
What advice do you have for a woman who wants to launch a company?
Starting a business is really frightening. You are putting your reputation on the line, and you have naysayers around you saying it will never work. But you have to be a risk taker. Putting a stake in the ground and saying I am going to do it takes guts. People are used to analyzing the risk, but you also have to analyze the opportunity. The most important thing you can do is to surround yourself with can-do people.
You can take baby steps into a business. You don’t have to jump off the high diving board the first day. But have the confidence to know that by the time you are in your 40s or 50s, you’ve had some valuable life experiences.
You’ve said that it takes courage to launch a company. Do you think it takes courage to grow old in our country at this time?
Not at all. I think our best years are ahead of us. For the first time ever, people are going to have second and third careers. The world is our oyster if we decide to embrace it. You can allow yourself different experiences now. I think it’s an exciting time to be at this age. And it’s not like you can roll back the clock — what choice do you have? I think it took more courage to go to your first dance than it does to grow older at this point.
The paradigm of aging seems to be shifting. We feel that for the first time in history, women are powerful in midlife and not winding it down. Have you noticed that?
Right. Think about 100 years ago or even 50 years ago when your husband had to sign for a loan, your husband had to open your checking account. We don’t have those restrictions anymore. That’s all been lifted. These are exciting times for women. There are lots more opportunities for women of all ages than ever before.
It’s clear you’re not the type of person to just go sit in a garden for weeks on end. Now that you have stepped down from running Eyebobs, what’s your next opportunity?
I am taking a respite right now. I’ve been so driven, and I am trying to figure out what life is like without that. We will see how long that lasts. It might last two more days; it might last longer. I find myself in a different place now where I can mentor people in their businesses. One of the great joys of having Eyebobs was employing people. I got a big kick out of that, so I will probably do something again on a smaller scale or to give other people opportunities. My clock hasn’t gone “ding” yet, so we’ll see.
Does being nearly 60 scare you? Does age even cross your mind?
No, it really doesn’t. If my friends were staying 30, it would bother me, but my friends are growing older too. It’s happening to all of us. And we’re not really getting older on the inside, we’re only getting older on the outside.
When I was in my 30s, I thought that was just the best. And then I hit my 40s, and I thought they were the best years. And I now I am about to hit 60, and I am saying it about my 50s. I have good health, and if that were taken away I might feel old, but I feel great. Turning 60 is just another page turned. And guess what? I hope to turn 61. I have an appreciation for life and everything it has to offer.
Not everyone feels that way. What would you say to women who are struggling with growing older?
What we need to recognize is that we’ve been going through transitions since the day we were born. Surround yourself with people who feel like their glasses are half full. Don’t surround yourself with people who see their glasses as half empty. Embrace your life as it is and look for the opportunities. There are so many things to be excited about. And whether you are 16, 40, 70, you can do it! If not you, why not you? Anything you want to do. Why not? Whether it’s starting a business or joining a walking club or learning to can vegetables or arrange flowers, you can do it. Just start removing obstacles and go do it.
(And if one obstacle you need to remove is the fact that you can’t see very well, go to eyebobs.com.)