ROLF SPECTACLES // Origins / Rationality / Future
ROLF Substance Collection
Sustainability has been a fundamental value at ROLF SPECTACLES from day one. The family business based in the Tyrol mountain region made a name for itself with expertly crafted wooden eyewear frames, which have since been joined by high-end models crafted from horn and titanium. For eyewear designers Roland and Bernhard Wolf, their constant commitment to tradition does not conflict with a steady drive towards innovation and improvement of existing processes. This becomes apparent in the brand-new Substance Collection, featuring models entirely created via 3D-printing technology.
The advanced manufacturing method blends with plant-based raw materials to demonstrate the innovative backbone of the Austrian tech and design company. With the Substance Collection, ROLF makes its first product offering in the medium price ranges, thereby opening ROLF spectacles to a younger consumer demographic. It’s all part of the bigger picture, as Roland and Bernhard firmly believe that change can only be achieved by reaching as many people as possible.
Hello Roland and Bernhard! Being based in Tyrol means you were hit by coronavirus quite early on. How have you fared during lockdown?
Roland Wolf (RW): We were fortunate in that our region had the lowest case numbers in all of Tyrol. Nevertheless, we responded instantly and prepared in detail for all likely scenarios. Many employees started working from home and manufacturing changed to a shift model to minimize the number of people simultaneously on-site in our manufacture. This allowed us to keep operations running quite well. Even the manufacturing of glasses partially shifted to the home office.
Bernhard Wolf (BW): Another major advantage lies in the fact that we only produce based on orders. So we could ensure that, even in the weeks during the lockdown, we always had enough to do and could work through orders from January and February.
Did you make some positive experiences during this phase, arrive at new ideas?
BW: Since we handle all of our marketing, design, production and distribution in-house, we were able to redistribute and make targeted use of capacities and areas of competence. We also used the time to develop new concepts and ideas for the era after corona.
What were some of the results?
BW: We focused on the new Substance Collection as well as advancing our wood, horn and titanium collections.
RW: We knew that our products are fully in line with the current zeitgeist, including the growing consumer consciousness for authentic and regional products as well as sustainable materials, which we knew would help us emerge stronger from the crisis.
Three concepts are fundamental to your company: Origins, Rationality, Future. How come?
RW: These three concepts play a large role for us. Our origins have shaped us. We have always been closely connected to nature as well as this region. We manufacture regionally and want to strengthen our immediate connections. Our supplies are selected locally, and we cultivate a family-like relationship with each of them.
In terms of rationality, we develop and manufacture our patented hinges and lens-fitting systems in-house. This includes the targeted use of new technologies in order to create products with added value. That seems rational to us.
BW: Our vision includes making highly innovative and honest products. Our in-house product development and access to the latest technologies are fundamental to us, in order to be prepared for the future. We want to be part of a change and show in how far it is possible to create better products with a sustainable mindset.
Your interpretation of “sustainable” seems to be quite expansive. How far does it go?
RW: Some people tend to reduce us to our choices of materials, but we go way beyond that. Sustainability starts with regional manufacturing, minimizing of suppliers, long-term and motivated employees, new ways of thinking in product development and proper application of new technologies. We have customers who ‘get’ our concept and carry it out into the world.
BW: We’re really into upcycling. For instance, our first CNC mill was converted into a 3D-printer. Our offices were made from the shipping boxes of our CNC machines in a process planned and implemented by students. We create new things out of the old.
Do you emphasize certain areas over others?
RW: We don’t. We try to extract the most out of each area while making as few compromises as possible. We attempt to always become better and connecting all company segments as tightly as possible.
You also maintain a personal approach and are quite well-known as eyewear personalities. Is that perhaps a bit too personal?
RW: We’re proud of what we do and are fully backing it.
What do you expect from your partners and suppliers?
BW: We select our partners very diligently. Our long development processes also allow us to gauge whether a cooperation is working. We appreciate personal interactions and mostly work with small family businesses.
And what do you expect from opticians?
BW: Opticians are our spokespeople. Products without a personal face have no value. We are proud to have partners who share our story with enthusiasm and get people excited about our products.
RW: We would like to see more consciousness and critical questioning of where and how products are manufactured. There needs to be a platform for manufacturers of sustainable eyewear, without pigeonholing them as niche suppliers. The zeitgeist calls for mindfully crafted products, which we are glad to participate in.
BW: It’s all about walking the walk. Sustainability is becoming a trend and many companies are looking to jump on the bandwagon. But whether they have earned their spot, or are just imposters, is for opticians and end consumers to judge.
You built a reputation for manufacturing wooden eyewear frames, but always continued to evolve. In how for is progress important to you?
RW: We have always strived to question ourselves and not rest on our laurels. We wanted to reimagine eyeglasses and reinvent ourselves. In the future, new technologies and materials will continue to allow us to keep progressing.
Your new Substance Collection is a step in this exact direction, using 3D-printing technology. How does this align with sustainability?
BW: From the raw material to the final eyewear frame, everything happens in-house. Here at ROLF, we avoid overproduction. This also applies to the new Substance Collection.
RW: Implementing 3D-printing technology with a plant-based raw material and our patented Flexlock Hinges is a logical step. By also printing our hinges, we arrive at a more efficient manufacturing process and save time working with suppliers and add-on components.
BW: Our Flexlock Hinges offer some amazing functionality. It rotates in all directions and is entirely independent of screws and springs, as all impact is absorbed by the O-Ring.
So you’re really also 3D-printing the hinge ?
BW: Yes, it’s another example of brilliant simplicity. We conjoin the front and temples via a single O-Ring. The 3D-printing process allows us to include the hinges despite all their complexity. The closing angles and touchpoints can be simply integrated into the final frame. It’s as if 3D-printing was created for this purpose. We require neither screws nor springs, which in our mind are no longer up to today’s standards.
RW: Another advantage is that the frames are practically indestructible due to the combination of Flexlock Hinges and ultra-flexible material.
How would you describe the design language of the new collection?
RW: In the Substance Collection, we opted for a young, understated design direction. Our design is focused on details. Our printing technology allows us to render miniscule details and set new standards in 3D-printing. This opens up unlimited possibilities. The surface structure also is part of the design process for us. We have invested lots of time and energy into creating a tactile sensation around our frames.
The collection even includes sunglasses.
BW: Yes, the Substance MOUNT Collection strikes a new direction with more progressive designs.
On that note, the Substance styles consciously aim at younger generations. Are you rejuvenating your entire offering?
BW: We want to be part of a change and offer a regionally manufactured product at an affordable price point. Young generations are receptive and demand authentic and sustainable products with an identity. We really want to meet those demands.
RW: Change can only be achieved by reaching as many people as possible!
All the best for this journey.
Find out more about the Brand Rolf Spectacles here.
Brand Profile at SPECTR.