By Jillian Urcelay
JU: HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN THE EYEWEAR INDUSTRY, AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DESIGNING FOR KENMARK EYEWEAR?
JW: My affinity for eyeglasses began with my first pair in 1993—my doctor, Greg Ossip, had the best selection in town—and I spent hours deliberating on what frame to select to best represent myself. But how I got into the industry is a humorous, if not lengthy story, which can only be attributed to following up. After college in 2001, I was looking for a job, a REAL job, where I could use creativity and an art background. There was a posting on jobs.com for a design assistant position at Kenmark, and I mailed in my resume. Doing customary follow-up a week or two after submitting, I called Kenmark and spoke with chief creative officer David Duralde who requested I come in that afternoon for an interview. It was back in the days of using MapQuest to find where you’re going, and I’ll never forget searching for the address I sent my resume to—only to find no such place existed. I set out to the street itself, found the headquarters, and David hired me later that day.
After starting, I saw a file folder of resumes that were submitted for the position, but it was missing mine since the jobs.com posting had listed the wrong mailing address. So it pays to follow up. David and I have collaborated now for the majority of the last 18-plus years, and I have a great amount of respect for him showing me the ropes.
IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU SEEN EYEWEAR AND THE INDUSTRY EVOLVE OVER THIS TIME?
Wow… so many to mention—it would make for a good timeline! Technology has changed every industry, but when I began, computer-aided illustrating was scarcely used in designing eyewear, let alone communicating. We used to send sketches via fax machine! So that has definitely changed.
In terms of manufacturing capabilities, what was once handcrafted by artisans yielded to an automation process with greater precision and capabilities on a mass scale, and now is once again transforming back to the handcraftsmanship for differentiation. The breadth of materials and the applications from other industries have also strengthened the componentry that is the architecture of the frame. 3D printing revolutionized rapid prototyping and will only get better and play more of a role as time progresses. Right now it is still in the “Tube TV” phase. The enormous shift of manufacturing and sourcing, once mostly from Italy and Japan transferred to China, has now lead to a rebirth of manufacturing in those countries and small towns, as well as elsewhere throughout Asia.
Personally, I never considered eyewear a medical device until I began designing it. But the explosion of licensing that occurred in the early 2000s, when every brand and celebrity became an eyewear name, lead to moving the overall industry mentality from a medical device to a fashion accessory. Now, there is a renaissance back to the late ’80s and early ’90s where even more independent eyewear brands have gained prominence and traction, both within the industry and the end consumer.
The role insurance companies has played and to the extent they have been in the industry has only grown. It once was an industry lead by doctors and skilled opticians in the U.S., and is less so today. As well, accessibility for end consumers online has changed the retail space of eyewear, making it a more competitive industry than ever.
It is a great time to be creative and envision the industry in the next five, even 20 years. But at the end of the day, for our team, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the goal of creating the best and most original product we can.
WHICH BRANDS DO YOU WORK THE MOST CLOSELY ON? WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?
We have a talented team of designers at Kenmark, and we are each responsible for the brands that best represent our talents and evoke ourselves. I currently design the majority of our men’s collections—Original Penguin, Jhane Barnes, Timex, Wolverine and our house collections. Picking my favorite is like picking a favorite child, “I like Hollan better, no I like Jax better, no I like…,” you get the idea. All of the brands are a favorite and all for different reasons. Penguin for originality, Jhane for the immense thought and approach in creating something new, Timex for making the everyman look and feel better, Wolverine for its rugged grit and the house collections to provide quality and affordability in a frame that people are proud to wear.
WHAT CAN KENMARK FANS EXPECT FOR THE NEXT COLLECTIONS IN TERMS OF THEMES, COLORS AND TECHNOLOGY?
In Original Penguin, a big focus has been on reforming and reimagining how things can be. Today’s consumer will take the time to find what personifies them, with or without having a specific idea of what it is they are seeking. It just takes the ingenuity and action to create it and make it presentable to them. When it comes to the collection, a style that really delves into this theme is “The Messenger.” We reshaped a typical aviator optical silhouette by intersecting the stainless sheet metal brow line through a “normal” eye shape, and then paired it with a translucent acetate insert for the lens mounting. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a great interpretation of taking eyewear forward without straying from the brand’s message of being, “What you wear for the good times.”
In general, plastic models have had a great run, but the resurgence of metal styles will play a large role across all eyewear collections in the years ahead.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING FOR KENMARK?
Without a doubt, being employee owned. Everyone has a personal vested interest in success and is passionate about their roles and the contributions they make. We all have a voice, and we’re all in it together.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT WHAT’S COMING NEXT? ANY NEW INITIATIVES OR EXCITING NEWS FOR THE COMPANY?
I’d love too! We are really excited to launch…shhh. You’ll see at Vision Expo West and Silmo! ■