I Am Generation T: Eric Dee Jnr
If you’ve been to the Philippines recently, chances are you’ve eaten in a Dee-owned restaurant, shopped in Dee-made mall, or bought a pair of Dee-designed sunglasses. Eric Dee is scion of the famous food and beverage family, but he decided to branch out into the wonderful world of sunglasses.
Launched in 2016, Sunnies Studios has been a runaway success, with 50 stores around the country, a café, cosmetic brand spin-off and a range of lifestyle accessories. We speak to Dee about how to make a name for yourself in a famous family.
What was your biggest 'A-ha' moment?
When we first focused on eyewear, I didn’t initially see the gap in the optical industry for what we do, which is sunglasses that are roughly US$10. But once I did, that changed everything, and it allowed me to venture into different types of optical, including prescription glasses. I think the reason why our brand DNA makes people feel good is it follows the one price-point model, so they walk into the store and know what they can afford.
Who’s your hero?
I would say always my dad [Enrico Dee, the CEO and founder of Foodee Global Concepts, which owns malls and shopping centres across the Philippines]. He has been my mentor since I was a child, and the one training me since day one. When I was a kid, he would take me everywhere; I only realised when I started my own business that I was picking up everything. I have two kids—one boy and one girl, and I hope to do the same for them.
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
When we started the brand, we always wanted it to be global. So, everything we do, on every step of the way, we’ve always done in terms of the global market. Right now, it’s very exciting because we’ve started expanding to Vietnam and Singapore.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want our brand to be recognised as a local Filipino brand that made it global. And that had real longevity.
If you could go out for a drink with anyone in the world, who would it be?
I’m an avid sports fan, and because I love basketball more than anything, I would have to say Michael Jordan. I want to ask how he reached such a high level and what inspired him. I play basketball regularly—or at least I used to before life got crazy
Any productivity hacks you swear by?
Don’t drive yourself if you can help it. The traffic is really bad in Manila—it’s an hour and a half from home to the office and back again in the evening. But the amount of work you can do when you’re stuck in the car makes a serious difference to my productivity. Before I get to the office, I’ve usually cleaned through my email bank, sorted out appointments and read all my briefs.
What are the habits of successful people?
You always have to be well informed, resilient, and with a capacity to be very agile. Agility is an underrated quality, but it’s important as it allows you to adapt to different markets and change your product according to what is needed. And focus; you can’t do anything without the focus to truly understand the industry you’re in.
Agility to is an underrated quality, but it’s so important, as it allows you to adapt to different markets and change your product according to what is needed.
— Eric Dee Jnr
How do you deal with failure?
I have definitely experienced failure. Before starting a sunglasses line, we were a standard retail shop, selling all sorts of clothing and accessories. At that point, there weren’t many global fashion brands in the country, then out of nowhere, they arrived: Forever 21, H&M, Uniqlo… We couldn’t compete and had to pivot urgently. But it was then that we realised 80 percent of our sales were coming from sunglasses, and that was how Sunnies Studios were born. It was so frightening at the time, but it turned out for the best as it shifted our attention towards what was actually productive.
Which other Generation T honouree inspires you.
Ah, definitely my brother [Eric Thomas Dee]. We have the same name, and we both do start-ups; although he’s in the food industry and I’m in retail, so there’s no competition. We did collaborate on Sunnies Café—he did the back of house and I did the front. It was great—I learned a lot about food and he learned about branding. Now I know I won’t go into food industry—it’s way too hard. My parents loved seeing us work together though; we’re only three years apart and always turn to each other for inspiration.
If I had an extra hour in my day I would…
Definitely learn a foreign language, specifically Chinese as it’s very useful nowadays. I don’t speak it well and that frustrates me. At the moment, I speak English, Tagalog and some Chinese.
What advice would you give a teenage you?
I would tell that guy to always try and understand every aspect of any industry he’s interested in, get proper information, do the research and always think globally. Hyper-connectivity means everything from international shores will eventually come to the Philippines.
The best advice I ever got was…
Always from my dad. He once said it’s important to delay gratification; if your business is successful, keep investing and grow it—and don’t celebrate too soon.
And the worst is...
When we started out, people said don’t go into the optical industry if you’re not a doctor. Now we’re fastest-growing eyewear brand in Philippines.
What’s something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I always remember exactly what people wear. Seriously. My attention to detail is more than most and because I work in retail, I always look at outfits and remember them. It always surprises people when I can tell them what they were wearing at a meeting six months ago—and probably scares them a bit.