“I’ve always been the intermediary between design and the commercialization of product,” said Dave Barton, the founder of David Kind eyewear. Before starting David Kind, Barton ran product, first at Spy Optic, and then at Oliver Peoples, spending much of his time traveling between factories in Italy, Japan and Germany. Barton’s tenure at Oliver Peoples started just after the brand was acquired by Oakley. Shortly thereafter, Oakley was acquired by licensing powerhouse Luxottica (which controls 27 big name brands).
“At Oliver Peoples we were licensing Paul Smith and just ran into roadblocks,” noted Barton. “You can’t make the products you want to make in some cases because of the cost constraints. Whereas, when you’re independent, the sky’s the limit.” So Barton left Oliver Peoples and, after starting wholesale brand KBL eyewear, founded David Kind, a direct-to-consumer eyewear company.
“I really wanted to do the highest-end product that I knew how to make,” said Barton. “So by working with a little bit smaller manufacturing and doing it ourselves, we can fine-tune things in a way that you can’t with a larger company.” Barton turned to relationships he built with factories while at Oliver Peoples, picking his favorites to produce David Kind frames and lenses. “We’re working with a small factory in Fukui, Japan — the actual area is Sabae,” said Barton. “In the optical world, it’s the center of the universe. Though it’s a shrinking community, it’s still where you get the most consistent quality and the most experienced people.” Along with the Sabae factory, Barton works with a factory in Cadore, Italy, a region with eyewear-manufacturing roots dating back to the 19th century.
Though many factories buy acetate for frames from the same manufacturer, it’s the experience of the craftspeople that separate a good pair of eyewear from a great pair. “What makes a difference are the hands touching the frames,” noted Barton. “Who’s polishing it? How much experience do they have? What’s the equipment being used to form the frame front? How experienced are the craftspeople at working that equipment?” David Kind’s size allows Barton to get exactly what he wants from his frames, from customizations on the hinges to half-millimeter adjustments to fit. “It’s the attention to detail. You just get more detail with everything from the packaging to the experience that the customers have,” Barton said.
“What makes a difference are the hands touching the frames.”
David Kind sunglasses and eyeglasses feature so many high-end details and components that, if they were sold wholesale, Barton said they would be nearly unaffordable after the retail markup. The glasses, which retail for $295, include custom-designed five-barrel hinges with genuine rivets and coated screws, hand-finished acetate frames, anti-slip grooves on the temple tip and incredibly clear lenses. The sunglasses feature 1.8mm-thick Japanese-made glass lenses, ground from scratch-resistant mineral glass. “The beauty of these lenses, too, is that they’re very thin,” said Barton. “They have a weight to them because they’re glass, so you have that nice substantial feel. But they’re also light, so they’re comfortable to wear.” Barton drew inspiration from his Los Angeles surroundings when designing David Kind’s Roman sunglasses. “It has a metal nose bridge with a really intricate Art Deco-inspired filigree,” he said. “The collar that goes around the temple, between the temple tip and the metal temple is same pattern, all custom tooled.” The inspiration from the chevron-style detailing came from the Eastern Columbia Building on Broadway in downtown L.A. “The closer you look at something, the more interesting it gets,” Barton added. “I don’t think that’s the case with the bigger machines. You can’t afford to put the money into the product if it’s so cheaply made.”
As the eyewear industry has been consumed by big licensing house like Luxottica, Safilo and Marchon, among others, Barton is secure with his choice to go independent. “You either have the big, giant consolidations, or you have these smaller startups that offer an alternative for people,” he said.
David Kind eye-glasses are sold directly-to-consumer, and the sunglasses are for sale at Deus ex Machina and independent eyewear site, Black Optical. “Gary Black is a great guy, and is really the person that the independent optical shops look at, to see what he buys and how he presents the product,” Barton said. “So we’re partnering up with people like that, who try to avoid Luxottica and companies like that.”
David Kind offers 15 optical frames and five sunglasses frames, all of which come with a 10-year frame warranty and a slim case covered in naturally sustainable cork. Though big companies like Luxottica continue to buy up brands and retail, Barton is optimistic for the independent brands. “There’s this resurgence. People just want to buy stuff that is different, more thoughtfully produced and with more attention to detail.”