An avid fisherman, Perkinson in recent years did marketing stints for fly fishing companies in Montana and in Charleston, South Carolina. As the popularity of fishing and other outdoor activities exploded during the coronavirus pandemic, he saw an underserved market.
Perkinson borrowed $3 million from private investors to launch the company, an initial investment that could need to be augmented as the business ramps up, he said.
The company has 10 full-time employees and some additional part-time workers in its New Smyrna Beach headquarters, a 30-member national sales team spread across the country and also works with a Canadian company to design the sunglasses. In total, the company has about 60 workers, Perkinson said.
A portion of them are ex-Costa employees, he said. Access to that talent was a main reason that the company is based in Volusia County, he said.
“We thought about staying in Charleston,” he said, “but there were 300 people who had just lost their jobs at Costa and those skills were what we needed.
“We don't have to train people. We can hire highly skilled sunglasses people right here. Plus, we had lived here. We liked the area, as well.”
As the world starts to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, Perkinson believes the time is right for a product that caters to a booming fishing and outdoor activity industry.
“I'm no economist, but I think there's pent-up demand,” he said. “Fishing is already in a post-COVID boom and I think the economy will come roaring back with the vaccines allaying people's fears. It's a good time to be launching.”
'People listen' During COVID lockdown in Charleston, Perkinson and his wife, Marguerite, refined the company's concept, a plan that extended beyond sunglasses to embrace global outreach on environmental, educational and social issues.
To communicate that message, Perkinson has assembled a team of six twentysomething ambassadors to undertake what he calls a “five-year around-the-world trip” to raise awareness of issues ranging from deforestation to overdevelopment in areas ranging from the Caribbean to Asia and the Middle East.
“They are the rock stars of this fishing boom that is happening,” Perkinson said. “It's an amazing group of young people and they are exclusive to us.”
The team includes Heather Harkavy, 25, a Coral Springs native with a marketing degree from Florida State University. Her job title is Youth Community Leader.
“What does that mean?” she said. “It means I get to socialize all day and make new friends. I'll be pulling together our team of ambassadors worldwide in 10 different countries and we'll all be the people representing this brand.”
Harkavy was in college when she met Perkinson during an internship at Costa.
“Al's the kind of guy when he speaks people listen and when he says things people believe in him,” she said. “He has created a brand that is fly-fishing-centric, that is very focused on the community and the places this community loves.”
'It's bringing jobs back to the business'
On the manufacturing side, Renato Cappuccitti, the company's vice president of operations, is among the employees working 12 hours a day, seven days a week as shipping deadlines loom.
Cappuccitti, a Costa alum, has worked 30 years in the industry.
“It's really rare to find things built in the United States with this kind of quality,” he said. “Glass in particular. Producing high-quality optics in a non-prescription form is really important to me. It's bringing jobs back to the business, as well.”
A new business that also employs skilled workers in the area is a win-win, said Jayne Fifer, president and CEO of the Volusia Manufacturers Association.
“That's so cool,” Fifer said. “It's good for the community, good for the workers; it's good for him (Perkinson) because he can find the skilled workers he needs. That's definitely a problem these days.”
Perkinson is optimistic about the future.
“What we projected, we're double that right now out of the gate,” he said. “What we envisioned is what's happening in almost every situation.”