Like tipping back a pint of your favorite microbrew or buying a hammer at your neighborhood hardware store, choosing a new pair of sunglasses can be an exercise not only in seeking out supreme quality—but also supporting the underdog.
Over the next several days, we’ll be investigating three up-and-coming, innovative, handcrafted sunglass brands. First up is the Pacific Northwest’s own Shwood (pictured above, on the right). Keep reading for a closer look at Shwood’s natural approach to eyewear, including a Q&A with their founder—and check back soon to learn about Raen (above left) and Dom Vetro (center).
— — —
PART 1 of 3: SHWOOD
Handmade in: Portland, Oregon
Claim to fame: “The Original Wooden Eyewear”
We spoke with: Eric Singer, Creative Founder/Concept Designer
MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What does your job consist of?
ERIC SINGER OF SHWOOD: “My day-to-day consists of experimentation. I play with new and unusual materials, I try out new silhouettes—but most of all, I help find new ways to keep our product offerings fresh and diverse.”
How would you describe Shwood’s aesthetic and approach? What makes them special?
“It’s clean. No extra bells or whistles, just simple, clean products that speak for themselves. Nothing is overly flashy; nothing too over-the-top. We let nature create our color palette, which translates into some pretty unique sunglasses. Nothing is fake; we create our sunglasses the hard way to ensure the materials are completely genuine. I believe that’s what makes them so special—the fact that our products are completely thought-through to the very smallest detail in design and materials.”
[In addition to all-wood shades like the pair above, Shwood’s new ‘Fifty/Fifty’ collection incorporates wood accents on acetate or metal frames. Prime example:
Shwood ‘Govy’ Polarized Acetate & Wood Sunglasses in Black/Ebony/Grey]
How are Shwood sunglasses made? What are some details of the materials or production process that customers should know about?
“The majority of what we offer is painstakingly made here in the USA, by a group of friends, under one roof. Each pair of glasses will pass through 20 to 30 individual sets of hands, each masters at their own set of skills. People will walk in off the street and see a full-scale wood shop, stacks of wood and machinery, and think, ‘Oh, just another cabinet shop’—and then leave completely stoked once they realize all that wood is getting crafted into sunglasses. Our entire production floor is full of customized workstations, tools and machinery that we ourselves have built to accommodate our very challenging way of producing truly handmade eyewear. It doesn’t just stop with wood, either—any natural element is welcome, when it comes to innovative design for us in the R&D lab.”
Why is it important to own a high-quality pair of sunglasses?
“There are a number of reasons for wearing nice sunglasses. The first and foremost (in my opinion) being the reason you wear sunglasses in the first place: the lenses. A quality set of lenses goes a long way when it comes to being comfortable in the sun. If you have to squint through them, they’re not doing their job. High-quality lenses, like Shwood uses, provide complete protection that helps prevent long-term damage to your eyes. Another reason is long-lasting comfort. I can remember wearing cheap sunglasses when I was younger, that after a half-hour or so, would create pressure points in key spots and then become unwearable. Finally, like many quality things, they simply last longer than the cheaper options. The things I hold most dear in my own life are things I’ve had for quite some time. There’s something very satisfying about a treasure you’ve had that still works years after you first acquired it—like your grandfather’s pocket knife or a nice leather wallet. Sunglasses should be no exception to that.”
What are a few of your favorite pairs of Shwood sunglasses currently?
“If I’m going somewhere like the beach or the mountains, I’ll grab my tortoise acetate/ebony wood Canby’s, because they were literally designed around that kind of lifestyle and can get into whatever kind of situation you want to put them in. If it’s a fishing trip I’m going on, I’ll grab my Francis frames in black titanium/walnut wood with polarized lenses. The bigger, polarized lens cuts the glare on the water from the sun, allowing you to see deeper and clearer into calm water and find the good fishing spots, which can easily make a day on the water really fun.”
[A closer look at that all-wood ‘Canby’.]
What inspires you and your brand?
“Simple things. Things that last, and that have design elements to support that sort of longevity. It’s all in the materials and how they’re used. When I see something that’s been made correctly, in a way, that makes it appealing—by how simply it’s held together or how raw it is in its structural state. I have to at least snap a photo of it. Something that, just by glancing at it, makes you instantly realize it’s ready to be used over and over again for years. Integrity in a product is what I’m talking about here. And it’s what we try our very hardest to inject into every product that we concept and produce.”
[A quick glimpse behind the scenes at Shwood HQ. Watch more videos here.]
Who are your top three sunglass icons of all time?
“Bob Dylan and his Wayfarers make that list for sure, alongside Steve McQueen and his Persols, and James Dean with his Clubmasters. They all wore sunglasses exceptionally well.”
To what locations do you recommend wearing a pair of Shwood sunglasses this summer?
“Take them to the coast. Any coast with sun and sand will do—just get out there somewhere with your shoes off, shades on and get wet. Or if that’s not your thing, get up to Mt. Hood or the Columbia Gorge here in Oregon, and hike around some trails and under a waterfall. Horseshoe Trail is a good one for that. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, trek down the Oneonta Gorge—always a surprising trip.”
— — —
[Photos by Justin Abbott]