Sustainable Eyewear Design By KOBERG // Interview with Managing Director Frank Tente

Founded in 1946, Koberg & Tente has become an integral part of the German optical landscape. Ten years ago, the Münster-based company launched the KOBERG brand, which demonstrates its design and manufacturing expertise. Managing Director Frank Tente attaches great importance to sustainability, not only in the manufacture of KOBERG spectacles, but throughout the entire value creation process – a matter close to his heart.

Hello Frank, your name gives it away, you are closely associated with the company Koberg & Tente. How long have you been personally involved with eyewear?

In a medium-sized family business, you grow up with your parents’ business – that’s how it was for me and how it is for my daughters. I regularly worked in the company while I was still at school. After graduating, I sold the Spanish sports eyewear brand Eassun in German-speaking countries on my own to gain my own experience in the industry. Finding or creating products that customers are enthusiastic about buying and reselling has driven me ever since.

How would you describe Koberg & Tente’s philosophy?

Koberg & Tente has changed again and again in over 75 years on the market. For me, value and sustainability are very important. We want to offer eyewear for different target groups without compromising our core values. So we don’t rely on expensive licensed brands, but create high-quality products in different collections for the respective target groups. In doing so, we always take sustainability into account in terms of ecology, economy and social issues.

You launched the KOBERG brand ten years ago. What motivated you to do this?

KOBERG was the first collection that we produced (again) in Germany. We worked very closely with the designers and the producer. We wanted to produce glasses without compromise that meet our standards for high-quality eyewear fashion, that we stand behind with our name and that we also like to wear ourselves.

What can you do with KOBERG that you couldn’t do before?

We have a very personal relationship with Alex Picicci from Deoma AG, who is responsible for most of KOBERG’s production. Together we look for the best solutions to transform the design into a perfect product.

What characterizes KOBERG as a brand?

KOBERG is “normal” in the best sense of the word. KOBERG doesn’t need flashy colors or extravagant shapes. We love a clear, simple design language that still makes a statement.

Is there nevertheless a special design DNA, something that makes your glasses recognizable?

Yes, at the beginning our designer developed a screwless cylindrical hinge, which was the most important design element. We then looked for a more delicate solution for the titanium models and transformed the cylinder into a small plate. What remained, however, was the special, colorful accent on the hinge.

What target group are you addressing with KOBERG?

Customers who are not looking for a well-known license name, but who value a high-quality product manufactured in Germany. Customers who like it straightforward but still want to make a statement.

You also want to make a statement with your special visual language. What does it stand for?

It stands for the identity of the brand. It is timeless, but still relevant. It’s purist, but doesn’t do without rough edges. The fact that it is not loud does not mean that it is reserved. It stands out from the general noise. And all of this corresponds to the product, the idea behind KOBERG and the resulting consequence: to produce something that lasts.

In this context, you also talk about “living sustainability”. What does this mean and on what levels does it take place in your company?

For us, sustainability is not just another project, but we always try to scrutinize all processes to see how we can make them more sustainable. This could be the transport route to us or shipping to the customer, the product packaging, the trade fair appearance or even the question of soap and towels in the company.

Let’s start with production. Why is “Made in Germany” important to you? Where are KOBERG glasses made?

The stainless steel and titanium frames are mainly manufactured by Deoma AG in Gerlingen, while the acetate fronts also come from a manufacturer in southern Germany. We do the final assembly, inspection and packaging ourselves in Münster.

Does that also make you faster?

Not always, unfortunately. But definitely much more flexible. We store the raw frames here and can reproduce them depending on sales figures without having to adhere to minimum quantities.

You recently built a new assembly hall in Münster. What is special about it?

The production hall is built as far as possible from natural materials. Sure, it also needs a few steel beams, but all the walls are timber frame construction and insulated with natural wood fibers. Instead of plasterboard, we used clay panels, which were then plastered with a clay-straw mixture in several layers.

To what extent do the materials you used – acetate, stainless steel and titanium – meet your sustainability requirements?

Basically, all three materials are easily recyclable. Cellulose acetate, for example, decomposes in one to three years, whereas a PET bottle takes 450 years. And the amount of material used for spectacle frames is not particularly high. It is much better for the environment to realign all processes than to use a specific material. We analyzed this a few years ago in a project with students from the University of Münster.

Your claim to sustainability is also reflected in the procurement of accessories, isn’t it?

Exactly! We only use components from manufacturers in southern Germany and paints from Switzerland. And we source our acetate panels from Italy. Importing from Japan, where there are also great sheets, makes no sense for us.

What does KOBERG’s packaging look like?

First of all, the glasses are not packed in a plastic bag, but in a linen bag. The customer can keep this and continue to use it or return it to us so that it can be reused. The KOBERG case is made of cardboard because we don’t like artificial leather or plastic.

In what other areas are you practicing sustainability?

We have currently discovered two new areas that we can improve: Firstly, we designed our trade fair stand for opti so that everything can be reused. In recent years, it has always hurt us to see how much was simply thrown away on the exhibition grounds after Sunday evening, from carpets to entire exhibition stands.
And we are currently tackling the issue of support panels with some of our friends. Otherwise, at best they end up in the yellow bag and are incinerated. Since January, some manufacturers have been labelling PMMA support panels accordingly and sending them directly to a recycler via jointly organized logistics so that they can be returned to the cycle unmixed.

Last but not least: What is more important for KOBERG in the future, brand and design or sustainability?

The brand stands for both and should continue to do so in the future: timeless, wearable design with a certain expressiveness while taking our sustainability goals into account. In the case of KOBERG in particular, it is the local production in Germany, the resulting short transportation routes, the flexible warehousing to avoid overproduction, the ecological packaging, the support glass recycling, the timeless design in outstanding quality for many years of use and, last but not least, the easily recyclable materials for the “end of life”. I look forward to a more conscious consumer behavior in favor of long-lasting products and a hopefully flattening fast fashion trend.

Thank you.

photos KOBERG

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