A 20/20 EXCLUSIVE WITH SHWOOD EYEWEAR'S CO-FOUNDER AND DESIGNER ERIC SINGER ON HIS BRAND AND DESIGNS
By Jillian Urcelay
JU: Founded in 2009, Shwood has a unique origin story. Can you explain how the first pair of Shwood sunglasses was created?
ES: That very first pair of wooden sunglasses made back in 2009 was literally carved from a tree branch. It all started from a love for vintage sunglass styles. I would regularly stop by the two secondhand stores where I lived near Portland, Ore., to dig through their used sunglass bins in an ongoing effort to find something good. It was rare to find anything of value, but every now and then, I would come across some vintage Vuarnets or beat up Ray-Bans for $1 and add them to my collection.
The backstory with the tree branch was that I had been making furniture at the time, and this tree had a shiny orange bark on it. I really wanted to make something out of this tree, so one night I climbed up near the top where a missing branch wouldn’t be too noticeable and hacked off a limb. Once I had it back in my makeshift woodshop garage, I quickly realized there wasn’t much usable material there. I couldn’t keep hacking off limbs from this tree, so the thought quickly set in that whatever would become of this branch would have to be pretty small. That was when the lightbulb moment came on. I took those old Vuarnets and popped out the lenses, then stole the tiny hinges right off the vanity mirror in the bathroom, and got to work hacking that tree branch down into a tiny sunglass frame and two temples.
The end result was barbaric at best, barely wearable at worst, but inspired me at a very pivotal time in my life. I was at a crossroads with what I was doing creatively back then, and this entirely new idea of building sunglasses out of wood completely consumed me. I think I made probably 75 pairs over the course of the next year, each one getting a little bit better than the last. The good ‘ol days.
How would you describe the Shwood eyewear collection to someone unfamiliar with your brand?
Shwood has always had one simple goal since the beginning, to create highly functional eyewear inspired by our natural surroundings. Color tones, materials, and an uncompromised fit and form all stem from what Mother Nature has already given us, coupled with the original roots the brand’s idea manifested from: those timeless, retro shapes from an undoubtedly cool period in history. Everything we offer lends itself in an entirely unique way to give your outfit something to talk about. It all started with wood at the front and center, but we didn’t stop there. In the last decade, we have very carefully pioneered over 15 different natural materials in the eyewear industry, using techniques and processes that we had to literally invent in some cases, or highly modify in others. The products we sell carry with them stories that are equally as important as the care and quality that go into them.
Shwood is constantly experimenting with new materials in eyewear. Which have been some of your favorites to work with and where does your inspiration stem from?
I’ll answer that in reverse. The challenge to do something that has never been done before is usually the inspiration behind a lot of what we have brought to market. These material story pieces always start as an experiment. Plenty have failed along the way for one reason or another, and I think that is what makes the ones we have brought to completion even more rewarding. One of the most challenging examples of one of these success stories was Newspaper Shades. The original idea was to take discarded newspaper pages and essentially “turn the paper back into wood.” This process took our R&D team over six months to troubleshoot. We almost tossed in the towel on the idea a few times, but the prototypes were just way too cool. Picture sunglasses with that light gray newspaper color, with random words and sentences mixed in all together to create a sort of feathered gray/salt and pepper effect. Every single example was so different from the next, and the equipment we had built in our workshop to make this all come together was a sight to see!
Another really fun project that made it all the way was a collaboration we did with a local brewery you might have heard of called Widmer Brothers. The idea was to offer a packaged set of wooden sunglasses with a bottle of beer, where the wood that was used to build the frames was first added into the brewing process, creating an oaky flavor to their IPA that we ended up calling the “Skipsaw IPA.” That same brewing process altered the color of the wood, essentially “staining” the wood with a shade of hoppy green color tone. This was all packaged up in a small wooden crate, nailed shut with a tiny crowbar included so the customer had to literally pry off the wooden lid to get to the goods inside. Such a fun project!
What trends do you see making big waves in eyewear this year?
Eco-conscious, Earth-inspired eyewear made from recycled ocean plastic, recycled metal and bio-based materials are all taking their turn in the spotlight.
2021 expanded our knowledge as we continue to adapt to the new way of life brought on by the ongoing pandemic, and consumers are leaning into more mindful shopping and returning to original sources with earthy elements and materials.
Natural stone and real wood are becoming the key focus again as this raw connection to Earth allows people to find a deeper meaning in the products they wear, which we’re obviously all about.
Vintage styles with a sprinkle of modern fashion are also big. While technology is booming and making life easier, people are nostalgic for what they remember from the past, connecting once more to the good old days. Seeing celebrities (past and present) donning vintage frames became a part of their visual identity. Consumers today also see them as an extension of their own personality.
In 2022, the focus is on the revival of mixing novelty, statement-making frames, and timeless designs with newer aspects such as eco-materials, new lens options and updated colorways.
It represents a generational response by the under-40 crowd against the uniformity and lack of creativity in much of today’s mass-produced styles.
Any exciting projects or new collections in the works that fans can be on the lookout for?
Stabilized! We have recently added real cactus to our full-frame stabilized platform, which now allows us to more easily play with organic materials to create fantastically unique looks. We have updated our real stone material offerings to new styles and colors, while also increasing strength for everyday wear, as well as adding additional wireframe shapes and sizes with subtle natural details such as real wood inlays to elevate from the mundane. Be sure to check them out at shwoodshop.com! ■