They've got Proof: Idaho brothers pitch wooden sunglasses three generations in the making on ABC's Shark Tank
Proof Eyewear’s wooden sunglasses kill it on California beaches, New York City streets and famous faces like Snoop Dogg’s and Beyonce’s.
“They honestly just expect we’re from California,” Proof Marketing Pres. Taylor Dame said. “They’re like: Oh, you guys are from California? We’re like: No, we’re from Idaho. Idaho? How’d you guys come up with this in Idaho? It’s like, you gotta respect Idaho, you know. There are some good things there.”
And in the Dame family, three generations of those good things – including the aforementioned wooden shades – started with sawing, stacking and sweeping in the family wood plant.
“A lot of conversations about wood were around the family dinner table,” Proof CEO and founder Brooks Dame said.
Brooks' grandfather drove trucks carrying coal.
“Kind of an entrepreneurial guy,” Brooks said.
After one trip, a customer approached Grandpa Bud with some bad news: The client couldn’t pay what he owed.
“How do you want to settle it?” Brooks says his grandfather asked. “And [the client said]: I’ve got some equipment I can give you.”
Wood molding equipment.
Grandpa Bud turned that heap of free tools into Woodgrain Millwork. Sixty years later, now located in Fruitland, it employs 1,800 workers, including – until recently – Brooks, Taylor and their brother, Proof’s VP of Sales Tanner Dame.
The boys inherited not only jobs in the family business and the Dame family's affinity for wood, but also their grandfather’s industrial spirit. Nearly three years ago, after failing to create a wooden ski pole, Brooks started crafting sunglasses.
“We even showed our dad,” Brooks said, “and he was like: ‘Wood sunglasses? That’s not going to take off.’”
“Maybe a little far-fetched?” the Dame’s father, Kelly Dame recalled. “Using wood as the medium for sunglasses was a little bit out there.”
And that’s how Proof Eyewear started: out there in the Dame’s garage.
Two years later, Brooks, Tanner and Taylor work in a hip office in Eagle. In 2013, they plan to surpass $1 million in sales. And, after loafing through the application process, the Dame brothers will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank Feb. 22.
But so far, monetary success, celebrity clients and television fame have failed to compromise the values on which the Dames founded Proof. The company still donates a percentage of every sale toward sight-surgeries in India and manufactures only recyclable, biodegradable frames.
“We grew up out in the outdoors,” Brooks said. “We love nature. We love Idaho.”
The Dames eat candy at work. They give each other a hard time. They credit their CEO father with their business sense and their interior decorator mother with their fashion sense.
“We’re a little bit into fashion and we’re into nature and so we kind of just put the two together,” Taylor said.
Add afternoons spent sweeping sawdust, dinners listening to suppliers talk wood, travels to other nations and into Idaho’s backcountry, and their own fraternal bond and you get a pair of wooden sunglasses packed neatly into a wooden box.
“Cool that a couple of guys from Idaho started this company in their garage and have expanded it into what we’re doing today,” Brooks said.