MAN AT WORK: MARKUS T
When it comes to innovative eyewear companies, most people will think of Berlin, Copenhagen, New York and maybe half a dozen other metropolitan cities. But is it possible for modern-day eyewear design to originate from those rural areas nobody talks about? You bet! For living proof, look no further than upcoming small-batch eyewear label Markus T. The company from the quaint Western German town of Isselhorst has been doing its own thing for some years now. Behind the scenes, Markus T is as down-to-Earth as can be. A small label masterminded by founder, namesake and face-to-the-customer, Markus Temming. Our visit at company headquarters confirmed our initial impression: The brand’s offices, production and distribution headquarters are based on a small farm without any hipster clichés or exaggerated urban fashions of the moment. The hard-working employees may roll up their sleeves to pack some boxes, but there are no gratuitous tattoos or tofu snacks to be found. It’s all somewhat more grounded and calmer than elsewhere in the eyewear business. Maybe this safe haven is the reason why Markus can approach the hectic tradeshow circuit, the fast-paced market dynamics and around-the-clock buzz on social media with an air of Zen-like calm. Compared to Markus, other luminaries in the business appear as calm and stable as a vial of nitroglycerin. But make no mistake: Markus T also had to start his business from nothing, and nothing was handed to him along the way. In Markus we have met a contemplative designer who is at rest within himself, without ever resting. And since he’s such a creative thinker – and someone who wears many hats – we handed him catch words instead of questions for the interview, and let him fill in the blanks. For a glimpse inside the mind of Markus T, here’s this issue’s Men @ Work.
“Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast… at least.”
Occupational duties and family life. Westphalian charms on one hand, purist and clearly delineated design on the other. I fluctuate between different areas of conflict. But none of them are contradictory, if you ask me. My family life is sacred and an important part of my being. On the other hand, I need restlessness, unchecked drive and inspiration – which I meet with my eyes open.
The straight-lined MARKUS T frames are not manufactured in a state-of-the-art facility. Our production workshop is housed in an old farm in the town of Gütersloh-Isselhorst, inside a quaint Westphalian farmers residence. This is where rural scenery meets straightforward product design. This place provides the necessary peace and quiet to focus on my work. It’s very important for me to provide an atmosphere where my employees can feel at home – including myself. I think this is reflected in our eyewear. We want our glasses to not only look great, but also be lightweight and comfortable to wear. Maybe it’s an advantage not to be based in one of the hotbeds of our business such as Berlin or Hamburg.
“You live and learn.”
I became an optician by mere chance. My family provided the impulse. My mother and older sister had the idea that this would be a trade that I would enjoy. And the optician’s trade is quite an exciting and diverse field. So I not only learned a lot about the act of seeing, but also discovered lots of features that leave room for improvement. The trade itself is super traditional and, compared to other industries, relatively slow-moving. This can actually prove an advantage when it comes to creating sustainable, enduring eyewear frames. It has really benefited me as a designer. Then again, you have to know your basics in the optical trade. After my professional training, I attended the Cologne School of Optometry. My first job was at an contact lenses institute in Switzerland. This was a really exciting time, but my heart was already really in design and composition. So after about a year-and-a-half, I decided to return to Germany.
Back home, I created the first collection at my parent’s house. The decision to base my business here in the long run gradually solidified over time. But today I’m glad about that decision.
“’T’ for Temming is enough.“
I’m as Westphalian as they come. I’ve built my company on the same concept as the MARKUS T brand. Basically, it’s all about making something more out of less.
When it came to financing the company, I’ve taken a rather conservative approach right from the start. In order to secure some start-up financing, I had to convince an investor of my concept, which I achieved without having to accept too many limitations in my entrepreneurial freedom. It was really important to me that I could make it on my own. Sure, with more financial resources many things would have happened more quickly. But I really wanted to plant the company securely on its own feet. This down-to-earth approach is also reflected in our growth pattern: We’re not growing at an incessant rate – or faster than we can handle – but solidly right from the start.
Our current efforts to convert a former distillery into the new manufacturing base while revitalizing the surrounding area with a mixed-use concept featuring a restaurant and other kinds of amenities is like a second new beginning for me. Again, getting there required me to win over lots of other people with my idea, which makes me very proud. After building MARKUS T for 15 years, this marks a totally new chapter with lots of potential. A future-oriented approach also needs new technologies. In our ‘transparent manufacturing’ set-up, we want to showcase our craftsmanship in front of an interested audience.
Maybe this project goes beyond the traditional down-to-earth attitude here in Westphalia, but it’s a welcome challenge and an important step in the ongoing development of MARKUS T.
I also try to stay grounded in my daily work. It’s important for me to be aware of every process within the company and know about every little detail – from developing a product concept all the way into realization. That’s really the only way to come up with new and better solutions. What does it take to get 100%? Finding the answer is really what drives me forward. I’m super fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing team, which is one of the main reasons why my work is so much fun.
“Function and Form language… that’s what it’s all about.”
What is design, really? And more importantly, what is great design? To me, it’s always about the overall product. Every designer should also be a developer to some extend. ‘Form follows function’ is an antiquated motto. Today, being a combination of aesthetically driven designer and technically savvy tinkerer is a must.
I’ve undergone this development myself. In the past, the functionality of MARKUS T eyewear frames was a strong focus. Today the form language is also an important aspect.
Whenever I see products, automobiles or buildings that have been developed strictly according to external appearances while a lot of effort is required to get the technical components to follow the form language, my blood starts boiling. Today I am convinced that such a one-directional approach can have no future and that great design will evolve towards balance and harmony. MARKUS T is also headed in that direction.
Since we handle production and development entirely in Germany, we are able to control every step of the process. This allows us to free ourselves from conventions and realize our ideas. The final result is a great, balanced product that brings lots of joy to the wearer. Additionally, we are lowering our environmental impact, making conscientious use of our resources and producing sustainably.
“That’s not gonna be enough.”
By all means, I can’t deny it. Anyone who knows me would laugh at me, if I made any claims to the contrary.
“I’ll never finish this, right?”
I often question things. But I wouldn’t call myself a skeptic. We sure had to overcome some obstacles along the way, especially in the early days of our company. But I was still convinced that we were doing exactly the right thing. I have to admit, I did go through a stage when I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to spend the rest of my life making eyewear. During this time, I felt like I was holding back the company, so it was time for a decision. Since giving up was out of the question, I had to find a way to motivate myself again. So it was a simple idea that brought me back on track: I set the goal for myself to realize some other new ideas, independent of the eyewear business, before reaching my 50th birthday.
And it worked! Now I’m able to focus all my energy on constructing unique eyewear, together with some other, entirely new projects. And I will always continue to question what I’m doing on a constant basis. Because there’s one thing I never want to end up doing: stagnating.
“By now I can say I have arrived.”
Local pride runs strong here in Eastern Westphalia. I’m witnessing many of my friends and acquaintances, who one day left with the goal of never, ever coming back, finding themselves quite happy to be back. It was pretty much the same for me. Once I returned from my job in Switzerland, my first safe harbor was my parent’s house. I did feel extremely out of place at first. But today I can see the many advantages of this region: The area is especially great for my children. There’s lots of greenery and there’s a sense of community, you feel like a part of something.
The Collector and Design Aficionado
“Great Design is Timeless”
I can’t deny a certain passion for collecting automobiles. Design is an important aspects of all walks of life for me. I love looking at beautiful automobiles, objects, buildings and works of art.
Automobiles hold a special attraction because of their design history. Especially cars from the late 1950s all the way to the 1970s are fascinating to me. In the years prior to this era, automobile manufacturers were mostly concerned with technical aspects. But then, design gradually became more and more of a focus. Back then, the approach was totally different than today: A very small amount of people designed an automobile together, which resulted in a highly coherent overall product. Nowadays, all kinds of different teams are designing one type of car. But what’s often missing is some kind of coordinated effort. Everyone specializes in their own area, but it doesn’t complement what the others are doing.
That’s probably the reason why designing eyewear is such a wonderful thing. Even the most minuscule detail is up for you to create, and in the end it always matches the overall concept. Not necessarily something that’s even possible in many other industries today.
After 15 years in the business, we can look back on our own piece of design history. It all started with the Design Collection, which marked the very first line introduced by MARKUS T – and it’s still going strong today. It revolutionized the way of doing things and is still exciting for us. It’s currently undergoing a relaunch. The ME/M1 was the first collection after my creative crisis and clearly marks a new beginning: a novel material developed in-house, paired with a different form language and boldness of color. Another milestone from recent MARKUS T history would be the M3 X. We’ve been adding new models to the M3 Collection since 2013, all of which carry the ‘X’ in their name. These are models with an incredible depth of materials and expressive design. The M3 X is a clear reflection of our brand DNA. It’s all about comfort and lightweight across all material stories, not just minimalism. My personal favorite glasses right now are the M3.327 X model and our SUN M2.643 shades.
“Dreaming is Highly Welcome.”
I wouldn’t call myself a visionary – my wife would laugh if she was here! We’re not doing something totally unattainable. Just finding new solutions and approaches that are future-oriented and sometimes a bit ahead of today’s technologies. Dreaming is a mandatory part of my life, and realizing those dreams even more so. I always try to find a way, although sometimes it may seem as if it doesn’t exist. But if you start out by thinking of the obstacles standing between you and your goals, you’re not going to get very far. I try to really think without barriers. But I still don’t consider myself as a visionary. To me, that’s a person striving for the impossible.
“We’re rather unspectacular.”
When it comes to seeing us as competitors, we’re rather unspectacular. We concentrate on doing our own thing without imitating others. We represent timeless design and independence. Trying to copy us would not be fun at all. There are very few comparable companies within our industry, and we clearly distinguish our offering from most of them. Our products appear to be simple, but aren’t really since they are based on a special overall philosophy that’s hard to duplicate. Our products are brought to life by the strong bond with our partners and their understanding of MARKUS T. I take a lot of inspiration from other areas. We here at MARKUS T are living in a world of our own.
But naturally, we are closely following the developments driven by our competitors. We are especially impressed by companies that manage to be continuously innovative and successful.
The Dog Owner
“My dogs follow me everywhere.”
A dog is part of family life to me. As a kid, growing up with a dog was really important to me. And today and I’m granting this wish to my children. In my eyes, animals can have a rather formative and positive influence on kids. Our dog Arun is a Briard, a herding dog. He’s been my close companion for eight years now. The dog is a constant fixture at our company and part of the MARKUS T team. And a couple of weeks ago, we welcomed a smaller version of him that’s always following him. Caruso is a direct descendent of Arun, and by now totally immersed into the everyday workings of our family and company. I really enjoy the calmness of this breed of dog, especially during stressful periods. At least Arun… Caruso, for that matter, tends to be a real handful in that way puppies always do.
“The waters can never be deep enough.”
Adventure suits me well, but I’m also aware of my limits. Next to my grounded nature, a sense of adventure is also part of my personality. It’s a big thrill for me to accept risks and to go that extra step. Back in the day, this could lead to overestimating my strengths and finding myself in some dangerous situations. I distinctly recall that unique feeling of weightlessness from deep sea diving. That was a real addiction for a while – some kind of rapture of the deep that was hard to resist. It sure is a thrilling, exciting sensation – and sure holds its dangers.
Nowadays, I wouldn’t go that far anymore. As a father of two, I carry a lot more responsibility, although I maintained my appetite for adventure. Some ideas still continue to attract me to a point where some day in my life, I want to see them through. Like sailing around the world, surrendering to the moods of the ocean for some time and facing the challenges of complete solitude. Now, that would be an adventure to my liking!