Photography Bert Spangemacher
Text Dagmar Schramm
ic! berlin along with its sister brand onono focus on creating unmistakable designs out of the very best materials. 4SEE visited ic! berlins production and talked to the owner Ralph Anderl.
With 180 employees, steady growth in Europe, and even faster growth in the USA and Asia – ever since the company was founded in 1996, ic! Berlin has been continuously expanding. “It took us a long time to really take off, though,” says CEO Ralph Anderl. “That’s why Berlin is the perfect place for us. You don’t have to be rich here, your company doesn’t have to skyrocket immediately.”
The inception of ic! berlin was more serendipitous than a meticulously mapped-out process: Ralph Anderl developed the signature spectacle frames without hinges together with friends from his Cultural Pedagogy program in college. They photographed unstable prototype and took them to an eyewear manufacturer who responded with a definitive ‘no’ and yet Ralph persevered, eventually leading the trio to produce eyewear on their own. “We approached it rather greenly but we were lucky,” Anderl explains. “Our adventurousness was the most important component, we didn’t have any notion of the market yet.”
Their unique concept succeeded in convincing customers who eventually became devotees of the brand. This success could be attributed to the fact that at ic! berlin, design and production are merged into one overall process. While other manufacturers let their partner companies produce their designs, ic! berlin prefers complete oversight over their in-house production. The unique screwless hinge is an important part of their designs, reinforced by their immense technical know-how. “The hinge works similar to origami,” says Anderl. “The close connection between design and function is the logical consequence.”
They use acetate from Italy while the stainless steel and colours come from Germany. Because the ambitious founders have been disappointed by third-party producers they do everything on their own. Their Berlin factory is the most effective advertisement for ic! berlin: they regularly give tours of the factory to international visitors and curious Berliners alike who spread the word about their experience of the entire eyewear manufacturing production. “Usually you’d have to travel to China for an experience like this,” says Anderl.
The typical ic! berlin customer is technologically adept – but that does not come as a surprise. Engineers, doctors, lawyers in their thirties or older rely on the exceptional quality and discreet style of ic! Berlin’s frames. “Our models are lightweight and easily adjustable. The screwless hinge makes them extremely stable,” says Ralph Anderl. “That’s why they’re also great for children, we’re working on stepping into this category as well.”
Making shareholders happy with quick expansion is the last thing Anderl wants to do. “To me, success means that our customers treat themselves with another model from our label because they are so convinced of our quality and comfort. The first pairs don’t need to be broken to have another pair. We focus more on longevity than lifestyle.” If you are looking for an extraordinary pair of glasses, you might find them at our sister brand called onono.
Their frames are made by hand from precious materials like buffalo horn and titanium. A production lot is small and they are produced both in-house as well as in cooperation with external partners. Looking ahead, onono says there will be 49 collections for the duration of 49 years, and each model will have exactly 49 pairs.
Ralph Anderl’s goal for the future: “We want to stay independent and continue producing in Berlin. Our eyewear joins the polar opposites of easiness and seriousness – we want to keep it that way.”