CHIT-CHATTING WITH EINSTOFFEN
EINSTOFFEN - FROM APPAREL TO EYEWEAR
Although it might appear like a brand-new start-up, Swiss label EINSTOFFEN has been around since the year 2008. In the beginning, the product line mostly revolved around textiles, signaled by the moniker “stoff” (German for “fabrics”). Over the years, the assortment has constantly evolved and now includes shirts, watches, as well as eyewear – all with the common goal of enhancing the wearer’s individual style. For us at spectr, eyewear is naturally the most interesting among these fields, so we sat down with one of the four founders, Philippe Rieder, for a Brand Profile interview.
text ASTRID SPIERING | photos RAPHAEL SCHMITZ
Who founded the brand and what was your initial focus?
The original founders behind EINSTOFFEN were Ramon Büsser, Raphael Büsser, and Christian Gisler. We started out with T-shirts, followed by our “Dress Shirts for Heroes” campaign. As for myself, I helped them out from the beginning and write all the texts for our small brand. Once we started producing eyewear in 2012, I came onboard as a full-time employee. As of now, we are also producing original Swiss watches.
How did you decide to focus on producing T-shirts initially?
The three founders had the idea while traveling around South East Asia and meeting a T-shirt designer in Bangkok, whose designs totally blew them away. They decided to produce his designs and import them to Switzerland.
In the beginning, did you already have a clear idea of where the brand would be headed?
We always wanted to create fashion – fashion that’s outside the norm and with an experimental edge. Initially, we also tried our hand at custom-made belts and shoes from Argentina. When it comes to our T-shirts, we quickly found that we would not make it into the stores with our tees – no matter how awesome the designs were. That’s why in 2010 we decided to start our line of “Dress shirts for heroes” – our first product designed entirely by ourselves. All shirts have been inspired by characters from cult movies. The response has been amazing and especially skate shops are reporting great feedback.
So in hindsight, designing dress shirts was the right decision?
Absolutely! Even considering that none of us have had any formal design training. Although, some of us did enlist at the textile academy at a later point in time. But most of the time we simply took inspiration from our environment and produced things we liked to have ourselves, much rather than looking at what was happening at large international design shows. That’s been our main approach until today and has really kept our collection grounded so far.
Making the leap from T-shirts to dress shirts sounds reasonable – but what prompted you to make eyewear?
We were at some tradeshow when we noticed a large amount of wooden eyewear as a decorative gimmick. Ultimately we decided that it should also be possible to produce fully functional glasses from wood. So we did! We created a concept and went looking for manufacturers. Our first line of models consisted of massive bamboo sunglasses – looking at our current collection, we have come quite a long way.
Initially, you worked with a lot of trial and error. Why not just bring an eyewear expert on board?
We did! Pretty soon after launching, we secured distribution in Germany and Switzerland. Practically all of our sales reps are trained opticians and work rather closely with us. They get to extensively test and inspect every single new collection and we are happy to implement their feedback, as well as that of our customers. I think that if it wasn’t for our open-minded approach to all their opinions, the entire venture into the eyewear segment would have turned out rather short-lived. At this point we have also hired several opticians in order to bring the feedback loop full-circle and integrate it into the design process. I think that both of these elements are key to our success: the open-mindedness of outsiders just as much as the fundamental expertise of opticians and eyewear insiders.
Are you in full control of designing all collections?
Yes we are! Our designs are all created in-house, and our decision making process is rather democratic. Everyone has the right to speak their mind.
What is your process?
In the first step, we design the overall guidelines for our collection. Then one of us tackles the first design sketches with a small team until we ultimately decide on the final design of each product with a democratic vote. Our sales reps, employees, and customers are also free to share their opinion. This input can lead to final tweaks and adjustments to ensure that our frames are a great fit.
And where do you manufacture your collections?
Our frames are manufactured by an outstanding company in Hongkong. The hinges are made in Germany, the acetate is provided by Mazzucchelli. All our watches are made in Switzerland, and our shirts are made in Istanbul. We know our business partners personally – many of them for a number of years – and check in several times per year to ensure that work conditions and quality levels are up to par.
How many of you guys actually wear glasses and where did you sell your first piece of eyewear?
Three out of four. And we are all passionate about wearing sunglasses. Well, at the time, we handled our entire distribution via our online store. The response was overwhelmingly positive and we quickly noticed that our bamboo sunglasses struck a chord. Back then, there were hardly any wooden frames in that price class, so trend-savvy opticians were quick to respond. But right upon entering into the optical market, we soon noticed that we had to refine and improve our offering in order to remain competitive. The past four years have been a steady learning process for us, and we thank our customers for their patience along the way! But looking at today’s collection compared to our very first models, I think it’s safe to say that we have come a long way in our evolution. It’s been worth the wait.
How did you decide on the three main materials acetate, wood, and stone?
First of all, we really appreciate natural and regenerative raw materials. Second, we love to experiment with different materials. We chose wood and stone since these are both equally aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to wear. We also opted for acetate with the demands of our opticians in mind – acetate tips are much easier to mold and adjust – and it has become a staple in all our collections.
Looking ahead, will you remain within your three materials?
Experimentation and combinations of materials are an integral part of our company – just like the Swiss mountains and the slightly ironic names of our eyewear models. So it’s rather unlikely that we will limit ourselves to wood, stone, and acetate. Our latest collection already marks an increased amount of titanium and metal.
Quick question aside Philippe: When did watches enter into the picture?
We do not consider eyewear and clothing as separate categories, but parts of a whole. Ultimately, both are fashion accessories that manifest the individual style of their wearer. Both segments continue to cross-pollinate and inspire each other. With that said, expanding into watches was just a logical step. All of us are great watches enthusiasts and with Time Bandits, our first watch collection, we also fulfilled our personal dream of making products manufactured in Switzerland. A genuine Swiss watch is a thing of beauty. And we also thought that the minimalist, rather reduced design also suits our overall brand imagery.
What is the brand philosophy behind EINSTOFFEN?
In the bigger picture, our goal is to create things that people find pleasant. Small treasured pieces for people with an open mind, a passion for style, and a sense of humor. We want to represent the open-minded side of Switzerland. The intersection of an idyllic, raw Alpine environment and the pulse of an urban metropolis. That’s the design aesthetic we are celebrating! But we opened our second office in Berlin for a specific reason: The city’s do-it-yourself metropolitan spirit allows for a large amount of creative liberties that we are lacking in Switzerland. Switzerland oftentimes has a tendency towards self-limitation and isolation. Nevertheless, we still love our hometown of St. Gallen. It’s a bit sleepier around here and we’re always just a stone’s throw away from natural beauty such as mountains, forests, and lakes. We actually need both – the uncompromising drive of the metropolis and the down-to-earth attitude of the Alpine back country.
What separates EINSTOFFEN glasses from competitors? What makes your label and your products stand out?
EINSTOFFEN is not necessarily an optical brand in the classic sense. That also becomes apparent by our material combinations and all the delicate details such as our weird frame names and the extravagant shapes and materials. We never considered ourselves to be THE wooden eyewear label and – as opposed to other brands – have been banking on flexibility and delicate shapes quite early on, particularly styles that work well for women. What’s more, our selection is rather broad, which allows us to cover a wide spectrum of facial shapes and price segments.
A little association game at the end. The typical EINSTOFFEN customer…
… will notice intuitively, that the label is a great fit. They are open to experiment and don’t always take themselves too seriously. Those characteristics signal a good connection with our brand.
… extremely important to us – no matter who we are working with. An EINSTOFFEN product needs to be fair for everyone involved. The customer, the supplier, as well as the retailer should always be satisfied with their end of the business relationship.
In the future…
… we are looking to expand our line of prescription models by a few more frame designs. Our goal is to have a collection of about 100 pieces. Additionally, we want to put an increasing focus on titanium and wood hybrids. We are also really fond of micro engravings and miniature artworks. At the next opti, we will also be showcasing our first models with clippers. Pretty retro, they also came out pretty cool.
Wow! This is already quite a lot!
It is. And in early summer we will be launching our Black Collection. Also expect some surprises in the watches segment and stay tuned.
We can’t wait to see more, Philippe!