Covid-19 has affected every industry in every part of the world. Many are faced with surprising new challenges that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. From supply chain disruptions to cancelled trade shows, we asked the leaders of top eyewear brands how they are adapting to uncertainty.

And it’s not all bad news. We also asked them for their positive takeaways from the crisis and learned that for many this is also a chance to realise what really matters both personally and for the future of their businesses.

VAVA EYEWEAR

Pedo da Silva, VAVA Eyewear
4SEE Covid-19 Q&A – Pedro da Silva, VAVA

“In the last 5 years I’ve been travelling 70% of the time. It was just too much, and being in lockdown it actually allowed me to make a lot of productive things.

I have been reading a lot about art and design and listening to music. This had a great impact on my creativity and my work on the new collections.”

What have been the most challenging experiences?

Indeed, as businesses were laid bare by the health and economic crises, all our employees felt exposed by the fast-changing output, new workplace reality and shifts in skill sets required to remain operational and productive during this time of crisis.

These past couple of months, we were all going through trauma. But you can’t be paralysed by fear. One has to persevere to get to the other side and never take anything for granted.

The challenge has been to stay confident in our abilities to adjust and to be flexible, open, to try and not fear failure. So we’ve seen crisis as an opportunity for renewal. We decided to move ahead with a lot of internal projects that included areas such as logistics, customer service, IT and digital marketing.

As a manager, my role was about stability, being a source of strength, being also open and transparent about the challenges. I believe I have been as supportive as possible towards my team. So it has been very much about re-energising creativity in all critical areas of the business.

What has been the most positive change?

The most positive change is that, for the first time, I saw a big part of the industry discussing how they can better respect people and the planet. It’s time for the industry, and not [just the] optical industry, to build a more responsible business model. As the world grapples with a once-in-a-lifetime economic and public health crisis, mass demonstrations against racial injustice erupt across America, and a climate emergency looms in the background; there is an urgent imperative to re-imagine how our industry can better respect people and the planet. Companies ready to change need to manage their expectations. It doesn’t have to be like an overnight shift. It’s a process, the most important thing is to take clear steps.

I participated in a lot of conversations and panel discussions, on what it takes to build a responsible business. I also learned more how to avoid the marketing “greenwashing trap,” we have re-analysed our entire business model to guarantee a future of sustainable growth and for making profit through principles.

My knowledge in themes such as responsible business and on the ecological impact of over-consumption improved a lot.

How has the Covid-19 impacted the way you think about new collections?

In the last 5 years I’ve been travelling 70% of the time. It was just too much, and being in lockdown it actually allowed me to make a lot of productive things. I have been reading a lot about art and design and listening to music. This had a great impact on my creativity and my work on the new collections.

Is there a motto you find particularly inspiring and uplifting right now?

“Creativity with accountability”

My hope is that there is a future in the future and we don’t pretend to change, but embrace a new future society. Don’t come out with a beautiful sustainable collection and be like, here it is in a loud packaging full of paper and plastic.

Many public events like runway shows and fashion events are being postponed or cancelled. Do you think the same will happen in the eyewear business? And if so, how will this affect your plans?

I believe so, already, the possibility of a year without trade shows has reignited a debate between industry players (brands, customers, sales agents, etc.) on the optimal timing and rhythm of shows (Paris, Milan, New York, Tokyo, etc.).

At VAVA, this year, we will follow our own rhythm, legitimating the value of time and connecting with stores globally by getting closer to them.

The shows will be back because it’s an important happening and gathering. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that shows need to change the format. They are far too expensive, very seldom ecological and not delivering interesting content. Shows should provide visitors with an extraordinary experience, preferably one that you’ll remember days or weeks later – one that makes an unforgettable impact. They should free-up a little bit more space for experimentation.

Is there anything you wish could be different right now that would help you or your business during these tough times?

For too many years there have been too many commercial opticians, with too much choice, too much inventory. All this combined with a great lack of creativity (not enough that is special, not enough that is unique, and lots of commodities) drove down prices and drove down margins. Due to that, there is a clear deflationary trend out there and there has been for many years. I ask myself, if a similar situation to coronavirus had happened 10 years ago would you miss these commercial chains if they weren’t here anymore? Probably not.

It would be nice if stores could embrace more niche brands that surely will stimulate the substance of those same stores transforming the market, and the economy into something much more sustainable. I want the market that would not be loaded with overly commercial brands and the ecstasy of consumption, and instead focus on something more down-to-earth, buying less but with more quality. I wish consumers would be better educated to consume unique products. The future is about conscious products.


YUICHI TOYAMA.

Portraits of Yuichi Toyama, Japanese Eyewear Brand
4SEE Covid-19 Q&A – Yuichi Toyama, YUICHI TOYAMA.

“Design itself can’t beat the virus, but for those who are fighting against it, I firmly believe that it has the potential to lift their spirits.”

What have been the most challenging experiences?

I’m a designer as well as the CEO of the company. Although it was a temporary situation, I was incredibly concerned about the health of my family and employees, in addition to the company’s operations, and so I did find myself losing some of my creative motivation for a time.

What has been the most positive change?

I usually travel overseas to attend trade shows and meetings from the middle of February through April every year. However, due to the Corona crisis, travel had been banned and I was able to allocate my time to spend more on creative pursuits as well as to have more discussions with my staff.

How has the Covid-19 impacted the way you think about new collections?

My desire is to provide customers with better design, quality, service that are a level up from what it was before.

Is there a motto you find particularly inspiring and uplifting right now?

Design itself can’t beat the virus, but for those who are fighting against it, I firmly believe that it has the potential to lift their spirits.  It will be an indirect effort, but I want to focus on creative work in which I can maximise the possibility of design.

Many public events like runway shows and fashion events are being postponed or cancelled. Do you think the same will happen in the eyewear business? And if so, how will this affect your plans?

I believe many brands will either decrease the number of new styles for the new season or postpone their sales of the new collection, but we will continue making new models as long as there are optical stores in the world. There should never be a situation that customers can not find any new styles when they visit optical stores.

Is there anything you wish could be different right now that would help you or your business during these tough times?

Online shopping might be going more mainstream down the road, but when it comes down to eyeglasses, there is a medical part, such as the eye examination. Therefore, it is the most desirable for us to continue providing glasses in a one-on-one setting.


COBLENS

Ralf Schmidt from Coblens, an eyewear brand from Germany
4SEE Covid-19 Q&A – Ralf Schmidt, COBLENS

“I think that the novel coronavirus has made us look with a magnifying glass at problems and habits that you may have lost sight of. Climate protection, sustainability, digitalisation and family.”

What have been the most challenging experiences?

The most important thing for us was to protect our employees. Therefore, we closed our optical shop here in Koblenz right at the beginning of the lockdown. We quickly switched the manufacturing, including customer service, to emergency operation. The short-time working (Kurzarbeit) is and was the right tool.

The challenge was to find the right middle ground between customer service, the ability to deliver but also the reduction of running costs. In addition, the supply chain was, of course, disrupted during this period and we sometimes had to improvise quite intensively here.

Overall, the most extreme experience was that all of us here, including myself, felt completely cut off from communication. No calls and especially hardly any e-mails. It was a bit scary at times…

What has been the most positive change?

The only positive thing was the deceleration in our private time. Like many others, there was more time with family. The topic of the “home office” was brought more to the foreground. And you see it, it works!

How has the Covid-19 impacted the way you think about new collections?

We partially postponed the launch of new models until the beginning of 2021 in order not to start with great glasses in a difficult market. But despite the coronavirus, we are bringing some interesting new models and new colours to market this autumn. We were also able to think a lot about our products, marketing, positioning in the market, etc.

Is there a motto you find particularly inspiring and uplifting right now?

In general, I think that the novel coronavirus has made us look with a magnifying glass at problems and habits that you may have lost sight of. Climate protection, sustainability, digitalisation and family. All of these topics could be dealt with more intensely during the lockdown.

Many public events like runway shows and fashion events are being postponed or cancelled. Do you think the same will happen in the eyewear business? And if so, how will this affect your plans?

We think that the topic of the international eyewear fairs in Munich / Stuttgart, Milan and Paris will be a difficult topic in the future. Specifically, for SILMO and Opti, under what conditions will they take place? Do visitors and exhibitors want to wear masks, have to disinfect everything, have access controls? Does the visitor still feel like flights, full exhibition halls?

And finally, of course, will the visitor want to do so in the future, from the point of view of climate protection, for ones inside Europe – flying to visit fairs, although he can get information via internet and Skype? These will all be questions that will decide about the future and the “how” of the trade fairs.


BLACKFIN

Nicola Del Din from Blackfin at headquarter in Italy
4SEE Covid-19 Q&A – Nicola Del Din, BLACKFIN

“We do not need to change ourselves and our way of working. We just simply need to keep on being ourselves.”

What have been the most challenging experiences?

It was very difficult for me to slow down, and during the lockdown I dedicated myself very much to the future, imagining it, dreaming it and preparing the business for the restart. Actually, I’ve never stopped working as I went to my office every day and I did my best to understand how to reorganise our best assets for the future.

We lived through a very tough experience and an uncertain time but I am a strong optimist. I don’t like to wait for things to happen, I really prefer to drive forward as much as possible to my future.

What has been the most positive change?

It’s hard to think about something positive but I can say that it helped us to understand something very important: We are very proud to be independent and we consider it as a key-point for our restart.

But not only this. We are a real Italian and with a completely in-house manufacturing company, we work with a passionate team of people, we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We have a strong and excellent expertise in titanium craftsmanship. All these values, which have always been the background of our company, if they might have been considered sentimentalism till a few weeks ago, they are incredible, positive assets now.

It means that in order to face this new time in our life, at Blackfin we do not need to change ourselves and our way of working. We just simply need to keep on being ourselves!

How has the Covid-19 impacted the way you think about new collections?

We were supposed to present the new Blackfin Razor line at Mido but we put it off and we launched it last week [June 8th] as our sales reps have started selling it only these days after the end of the lockdown.

In addition, we have decided to present the whole new FW collection in July. This is possible because we are the manufacturer of our products.

With this decision, we want to give a positive message to our customers and underline the high level of our service because Blackfin is synonymous with reliability.

Is there a motto you find particularly inspiring and uplifting right now?

Ad maiora. [Towards Greater Things.]

Many public events like runway shows and fashion events are being postponed or cancelled. Do you think the same will happen in the eyewear business? And if so, how will this affect your plans?

Starting from Mido, the eyewear exhibitions have been cancelled. Silmo at the moment has confirmed its edition at the end of September but we are all watching carefully to see how the international situation is developing.

If the general mood of the market is going to be more and more positive, we could be confident about the DaTE (for the Italian market), but honestly, as Blackfin, we are still in doubt about our participation at Silmo also because France is not one of our key markets.

As we missed the fairs we have tried to work in a different way, presenting the collections through digital conference and sending the samples as quickly as possible to our sales reps in order to let them travel and show the collections to the clients.

Is there anything you wish could be different right now that would help you or your business during these tough times?

As I’ve said, nothing different! I tried so hard to understand which could be the needs and requests of our customers after this crisis. And in the end, the answer was surprisingly very natural: we had to keep on being ourselves. All the main pillars upon which Blackfin was built over these years became suddenly strategic.


EYEVAN

Eyevan Logo

 

“In addition to using beautiful things as design sources, we also observe and get inspired by various things related to human life.

We believe new possibilities will open up if we were able to incorporate these ideas into glasses. ”

 

What have been the most challenging experiences?

Up until now, it was completely normal to meet in person to hold meetings, but with the restrictions of free movement, the challenge was how to communicate with each other. We believe this is something that will continue in the future.

What has been the most positive change?

We have been manufacturing eyewear with a focus on compatibility with fashion and the joy of owning things, but in addition to these goals, we urgently felt the need for further improvements in comfort and functionality.

We have been able to meet the high standard of functionality until now. But we need to create glasses that are even better in order to stand up in an environment in which they cannot be easily repaired. When people are advised to stay home under the state of emergency, or medical workers who are working around the clock, they cannot go out to repair glasses so easily.

How has the Covid-19 impacted the way you think about new collections?

In addition to using beautiful things as design sources, we also observe and get inspired by various things related to human life (e.g. airplane parts, medical equipment, playthings for children, etc.). We believe new possibilities will open up if we were able to incorporate these ideas into glasses. We would like to welcome the challenge to make these ideas possible in new collections and/or new brands.

Is there a motto you find particularly inspiring and uplifting right now?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Many public events are being postponed or cancelled. Do you think the same will happen in the eyewear business? And if so, how will this affect your plans?

In the eyewear industry as well, various domestic and overseas exhibitions have been cancelled one after another. Under the current circumstances in which commercial activities are limited and movement is restricted, it is a challenge to reach buyers and end-users to communicate new models.

Is there anything you wish could be different right now that would help you or your business during these tough times?

In order to let buyers and end-users learn about our brands and products and even lead them to sales, it would be helpful to have a good online fitting, ordering, and sales system for our business.

ETNIA BARCELONA FOUNDATION “OPTICIANS WITH YOU”

Etnia Barcelona provides opticians with 150,000 pairs of glasses completely free of charge through its Foundation.

Etnia Barcelona Foundation Opticians With You
The foundation was created with the objective of providing vision care and providing assistance to the most vulnerable families achieving a better view for them and a better quality of life.

01.06.2020:  Etnia Barcelona Foundation launched its “Opticians With You” program, an international charitable project aimed at helping families negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Since 2016, the Etnia Barcelona Foundation has supported nearly 50,000 families and, in particular, children from different social backgrounds, given the direct correlation between vision problems, drop-out rates and social integration difficulties. This project aims to work to improve their visual health and quality of life.

Given the current situation, the Etnia Barcelona Foundation has decided to expand its sphere of action and is taking the Opticians With You project even further.

Etnia Barcelona Foundation Opticians With You
The foundation was created with the objective of providing vision care and providing assistance to the most vulnerable families achieving a better view for them and a better quality of life.

This project was created to personally help individuals whose economic possibilities have suffered as a result of the pandemic. The Foundation, with the collaboration of opticians around the world, will send 150,000 frames from the brand, completely free of charge, to vulnerable individuals or families who need glasses and do not have access to them as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

The project, which defends the right of individuals to have correct vision and a better quality of life, will be implemented through the opticians that participate in the Foundation’s Non-Profit Opticians program. These opticians play a fundamental role in identifying individuals or families in their communities that are going through hard times financially. They become the Foundation’s eyes to detect and offer this help to anyone who needs it.

Etnia Barcelona Foundation Opticians With You

The Foundation’s usual partners have decided to join in on the initiative because they understand that this charitable endeavor is fundamental when we are faced with a global crisis. Opticians With You is launched on June 1 and will run until December 31. It will allow many families to access the eye care they need to improve their quality of life.

Individuals who are experiencing economic difficulties and who need vision correction can talk to one of the opticians taking part in the program to receive more information.

Find out more at www.etniabarcelonafoundation.org.

An optical shop in Warsaw, Poland

EYEWEAR RETAIL REPORT

KOGAKU, WARSAW

Text MIO HAYASHI

Achieving a certain level of excellence in everything from an appropriate space for a display to honest and heartfelt service has been the main objective for Kogaku. After opening their first shop in 2017, the second location followed just ten months later, and each one offers a distinctive selection from one another.

The interior of the first shop mostly uses natural materials such as nut tree walls combined with Italian Carrara marbles, serving as an ideal backdrop for the eyewear collection on display. The shop’s flawless feature is enhanced by the wireless connectivity of all devices, from the sound system, air conditioning to the coffee machine, all controlled from an iPad. “The aim was to create a space where the interior corresponds with the quality and craftsmanship of frames we offer”, comments Tomasz Czarnota, the founder of the shops.

An optical shop in Warsaw, Poland
4SEE Retail Report – Kogaku, Warsaw

Kogaku’s customers include professionals of diverse fields, such as architects, lawyers, diplomats, and musicians, who are extremely demanding, both in their choice of products as well as the services received through the shopping experiences.

Among its 17 brands offered, a majority of them come from Japan, including Eyevan 7285, Kaneko, and Native Sons, as well as German makers Lunor and Gernot Lindner. Classic, timeless panto shape variations in acetate, metal as well as in combination tend to be a popular choice for their customers. Tomasz’s best advice for buying a new pair is to be able to appreciate oneself wearing the eyewear, and just as importantly, the eyewear itself as an object, which would ensure long-term satisfaction afterward.

An optical shop in Warsaw, Poland
4SEE Retail Report – Kogaku, Warsaw

Kogaku

Bednarska 20A
00-321 Warsaw, Poland
+48 22 826 24 22
www.kogaku.pl

Photo: courtesy of Kogaku

This article originally appeared in the DISCOVERY issue // published in February 2020.

Globe Specs, An optical shop in Tokyo

EYEWEAR RETAIL REPORT

GLOBE SPECS, TOKYO

Text MIO HAYASHI

Opened in the epicenter of Japanese youth culture Shibuya in 1988, Globe Specs has strived to be a new type of retailer that proposes fun, unconventional styles. Founder Tetsuya Okada regularly visits overseas tradeshows and independent ateliers to find not only the latest, but also rare vintage items for the Shibuya shop and its second location in Tokyo’s fashionable Daikanyama district. Their shop interior features antique-inspired furniture to give warm, inviting touches, such as a desk used in a French postal office and a mirror from a Japanese kimono shop. Their efforts to bring innovation to the retail environment and services have resulted in the Bestore Award from the Mido eyewear trade show in Milan for two consecutive years in 2017 and 2018.

Globe Specs, An optical shop in Tokyo
4SEE Retail Report – Globe Specs, Tokyo

The two shops offer a wide selection of designs, catering to the broad range of clients that visit from near and far. Small, metal double-ridge, round-shapes, and classic panto in thick plastics, as well as thin frame designs, are especially popular for them. And, as the metal and plastic combination has become a staple of the moment, new models have emerged that creatively combine the two materials. Additionally, Robert Marc NY is a brand to watch, according to Tetsuya, with a new design team that has been producing variations never seen before.

As for advice when buying a new pair, he comments, “Customers tend to choose glasses that are similar to the ones they already own, so we try to recommend designs that will bring out their features more. Something that would enhance the images that are favourable in respect to their professions and lifestyles.”

Globe Specs, An optical shop in Tokyo
4SEE Retail Report – Globe Specs, Tokyo

Globe Specs

1-7-9 1F Jinnan, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo 150-0041, Japan
+81 3 5459 8377
www.globespecs.co.jp

Photo: courtesy of Globe Specs

This article originally appeared in the DISCOVERY issue // published in February 2020.

Optical store, Frank Lo in Rome

EYEWEAR RETAIL REPORT

FRANK LO, ROME

Text MIO HAYASHI

Located on a small street close to Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucia, next to other concept stores and boutiques, Frank Lo offers one-of-a-kind eyewear to the fashionable set in Rome, locals and visitors alike. “Design and avant-garde are the two keywords for Frank Lo’s style”, comments Massimiliano Savo, the founder of the shop.

Sourced from Italy, France, Germany, UK, Canada, USA, and Japan, the exquisite, handcrafted collection provides a sensory journey for the clients. In addition to the use of precious materials such as buffalo horns, marble, silver, leather, woods, cotton and gold, their policy of carrying only one piece per style ensures that the assortment has absolute exclusivity. “Our mission is to remind everyone of their beauty and uniqueness”, explains Massimiliano.

Optical store, Frank Lo in Rome
4SEE Retail Report – Frank Lo in Rome

Their clientele base is varied in age and gender, but mostly attracts celebrities and artistic types with a high level of sensibility to design. Individual attention is given to the selection of the right eyewear, with consideration given to the personality, style, and facial features of each client. “We don’t necessarily recommend what we like. We try to provide the best options for improving their looks. Every face is different, so every choice is new”.

Asked about their favourite brands, “We love eyewear with character, the thickness of the material, and matte effect. If we have to choose between our brands, it would be Rigards, Masahiro Maruyama, Rapp, Hoffmann, Vava, all brands with that personality we look for”.

Frank Lo

Via del Leone 8
00186 Rome, Italy
+39 06 6830 8189
www.franklo.it

Photo: courtesy of Frank Lo

This article originally appeared in the DISCOVERY issue // published in February 2020.

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