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All eyes on independent sunglasses brands

April 18, 2014 6:26 pm By Ryan Thompson Whether they are worn to shield our eyes, strike a pose or conceal a hangover, sunglasses are big business. Most luxury brands license their production to one of four major companies: the northern Italian trio of Luxottica, Safilo and Marcolin, plus New York-based Marchon. Luxottica even signed a deal with Google last month to design, develop and distribute Google Glass, the technology company’s interactive glasses, which will incorporate designs from Ray-Ban and Oakley. However, a number of discerning consumers are starting to side-step these big brands and instead seek out independent makers for their eyewear. “Today’s customers have better access to information through digital media and are more interested in sustainability,” says Barbara Canales, co-founder of, an independent eyewear blog. “They want to buy high-quality products with interesting stories, rather than letting a big logo on the temple do all the talking.” Here are six innovative designers that share a passion for small-scale handmade manufacturing, with a look at what they are doing this season: Rigards Founded in 2012 by Ti Kwa and Jean-Marc Virard, Rigards eschews the more popular acetate in favour of sustainable water-buffalo horn, a byproduct from domesticated herds in Ethiopia and Egypt. All Rigards frames are hand-polished to produce two unique finishes: “relique”, an unwaxed matte finish with a coppery patina, and “sanjuro”, which has an irregular stony finish with a fingerprint-like pattern. Hapter Inspired by a pair of second world war military goggles they found in the Dolomites in 2009, founders Eric Balzan and Mirko Forti spent the next three years defining Hapter’s aesthetic. The result – its “txtl001” collect­ion – combines industrial-grade surgical steel dressed in a skin of Italian military cotton cloth sourced exclusively from the Lanificio Cerruti archives. The A01 model has already won the 2013 iF Product Design Award and 2014’s German Design Award. “The finishing process is entrusted to only the most skilled eyewear master craftsmen in Cadore, a small mountain community in the Italian Dolomites,” says Balzan.