Blood, Sweat, Tears & Carbon
Designer, inventor, visionary – Claus Bellinger, founder of eyewear label Blac, is a true all-round talent. And he never strayed from his vision – although his path, as he puts it, has been full of blood, sweat and tears at many instances. It all started with Bellinger’s fascination for carbon, a material previously known mostly in the motorsports segment. Crafting eyewear from carbon was a logical step for Bellinger, since he wanted to create something cool, sleek, lightweight and masculine; just like a racecar. The rest is history. Today, Bellinger is looking at an impressive collection that is steadily growing in terms of size and fan following. Here’s the background story in our exclusive EYEWEAR interview.
Hello, Claus. When did you start Blac and what was the impetus for the brand?
The impulse came from my fascination with racecars, especially Formula 1, and the rise of carbon in that segment. The MP4-1 was the first Formula 1 car body fully crafted from carbon. It was one seamless body, instead of the usual assembly of individual aluminum partitions. My goal was to create a frame entirely built from carbon fiber, kind of the exact opposite of what Bellinger was doing. So I assembled a team of designers, engineers and inventors. Our vision: To create a new brand that was equally masculine, lightweight, strong and innovative.
Was this relatively simple to implement? After all, an eyewear frame has different requirements than a racecar?
It proved a very big challenge for us. We had a clear vision, but at the same time, no idea how to implement it. We were the first in our segment to even consider working with carbon. This meant that we had to do everything ourselves. There was no one else to lend us their experience. Plus, the tooling conditions for implementing the idea at our facilities differ greatly from conventional eyewear production processes. We employ people in our production who have previously worked with delicate elements such as goldsmiths, clockmakers or a prosthesis designer with previous experience working with carbon. We had to build our entire know-how about carbon as a material from the ground up. It took us five years and the entire process is still not finished, we are constantly learning. Probably a good thing I had no idea what I was getting into at the time.
What motivated you to stay with the project?
Our first prototype was ready in 2008 and we wanted to present it in Milan. This prototype was not intended for resale, the quality just was not there, yet. For example, we took the hinges from an old VHS tape and glued them into the glasses. But the response was incredibly positive, customers were excited and pre-ordered the model, although it was not even ready. They believed in us and that kind of faith was a great source of strength and encouragement.
Are end customers even able to appreciate the extensive production efforts?
We try to invite opticians to visit our production facilities in Denmark, so they can get an impression right on the spot. We have noticed that customers are ordering way more glasses once they understand the pricing difference between acetate glasses and a carbon model and are able to pass this insight on to their end customers.
What is the philosophy behind the Blac brand?
Our motto at Blac is: technical, innovative, cool and lightweight… real Danish handiwork.
What are some of the complexities when processing carbon?
It depends on what kind of frame you are trying to build. If only components are crafted from carbon, it’s relatively easy since you are dealing with a straight piece without curvature. But with a full-carbon frame like we’re building, there is a lot to keep in mind. Flexibility is certainly the greatest challenge. It took us over five years to develop our production process and blend carbon with titanium in a way that makes it flexible. We now also have a patent on this production method. There is no simple machine that will punch out the shape of the frame at 1,000 units a day. Every frame is unique and needs its own shape. Every frame is handcrafted and requires enormous time and effort.
How many steps does the actual production process consist of?
There are seven steps in our production.
1. First of all, the carbon is molded into the right shape by hand.
2. It takes about 50 minutes to create a shape. We use four layers and two additional layers to strengthen the mid-section. After accurately layering the individual carbon layers, we go into baking.
3. The shape is baked for 7 to 9 hours. The hardened shape is then extracted.
4. We cut out the front of the frame.
5. The frame is then sanded and polished by hand, which takes around 30 minutes.
6. A BLAC frame consists of 39 components and they are all assembled by hand. The temples alone are made from nine individual parts. Everything about a pair of BLAC glasses is one-of-a-kind.
7. Once the frame is assembled, it is subjected to a strict quality check. If the frame passes, we fill out a supplemental certificate to document the entire process and our quality specifications for our customers.
Are you using any patented processes in your production?
We are proud to have developed the first flexible carbon frame, which we were able to protect with the US Patent Office. The most important elements for Blac are the flexible temples. We integrate a titanium metal core in-between the carbon fibre layers. Without the titanium core, the carbon would prove stiff and unwieldy. And that’s the method we have gained patent protection for.
How much do carbon glasses weigh?
Carbon fiber is 2.5 times lighter than titanium and 4.5 times lighter than stainless steel. A Blac frame weights about 7.5 grams.
Initially, you exclusively produced carbon eyewear for male customers. What is your portfolio like today?
The Blac collection is no longer aimed exclusively at men. We now also offer our rock star look for girls, with new colors and color combinations. There is also a wide selection of cool, sleek looks for both men and women. We also offer sunglasses for men and women, who are both equally fascinated by the extreme lightweight of our product.
But does that water down the brand in a way?
No, just the opposite – it supplements the Blac collection. At first we had lots of male customers who were familiar with carbon from motorsports and wanted the glasses because of the cool material. Today the frames enjoy a strong following, especially among women, because of their streamlined look and ultra-light weight.
Is your focus rather on athletic eyewear or in the lifestyle category?
Our focus is lifestyle. But we are also trying out the sports segment. This is mainly because we receive many requests from athletes who would like one of our glasses. Carbon really enjoys a strong following in the sports business, in sectors such as motorsports, bike racing, boating, etc.
In how far are you able to implement customer specifications in terms of shapes and colors?
We always try to implement the wishes of our customers. This is how we created our first sports glasses, which happened in direct collaboration with athletes. But naturally, it always ends up being a question of pricing. We have already invested quite a lot into Blac. So developing new models or colorways always means a much higher expenditure than when you are working with acetate or titanium frames.
How do your glasses stand out from your competitors?
Honestly, I don’t think we have any competition. So far we have yet to see anything on the market that offers the same flexibility and the same look as Blac. We do not use any kind of glues, varnishes or the like. Our surfaces are made from pure carbon. The top bar is integrated and not simply glued on. We are banking on a raw, pure look. All parts are handmade according to a simple, clear concept. And we also offer more than 50 models in different shapes and combinations.
Your glasses are made in Denmark. What are the advantages of producing locally?
The main advantage is that we are 100% in control of our production and able to respond flexibly. Plus, it is also the only way for us to meet our high quality standards. This is mainly thanks to the extremely well trained specialized workforce here in Denmark. With Bellinger, we started as a team of only designers. But when it came to working with carbon, we could not find any manufacturers in Europe or Asia that could implement what we had in mind. So we had to invent everything ourselves; tools, machinery and the frame components. And the amount of know-how we possess at this point – we would never pass on to anyone. On top of that, creating eyewear “Handmade in Denmark” has always been a dream of mine.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs and products?
Inspiration is everywhere… when I’m traveling, from magazines, during a Sunday morning walk on the beach, watching kite surfers, from cars, planes, buildings, from motorsports… simply everything imaginable.
What is your vision for the future?
To keep being creative and producing cool as well as technically innovative eyewear.
What is your trend forecast for carbon eyewear in the coming years?
Carbon is really hot right now. It is a warm material, much like horn and thereby offers a highly comfortable wear. Carbon is going to be the new acetate or titanium on the eyewear market. It is a fantastic material and more and more eyewear manufacturers will be using it.
Claus, mange tak. Vi ønsker dig al mulig success.